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John Donald O'Shea

John Donald O'Shea is a tried circuit court judge and a columnist for The Dispatch-Argus.

Socialists always promise to end poverty by redistributing wealth expropriated from "rich capitalists." What happens when they run out of rich capitalists?

Imagine your pastor gives a Sunday homily extolling the life of St. Francis of Assisi, and his choice to lead a life of apostolic poverty. Then, in the next breath, the pastor encourages generous giving to your church's $5 million capital campaign. Do you see a problem?

If all parishioners lead lives of apostolic poverty, how can they donate $5 million to the capital campaign?

I have always wondered how Christ manged to survive during his three-year public ministry. Recall him saying, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Were conditions better for his apostles? His disciples? When Christ sent them forth to proclaim the kingdom of God, he instructed them "to take neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic." He also instructed, "Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there."

But Christ also realized that doors might not be opened. "And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet. ..."

So, how did Christ and his retinue survive Israel's winter nights when he and his disciples were not welcomed into homes? When they carried no money or blankets, and wore only tunics and sandals?

Around Jerusalem, the average high temperatures from December through March are 49 to 54 degrees and the lows are 43 to 46 degrees. Did Christ suspend his mission during inclement weather?

Where did Christ and his followers get their food? When their sandals and clothes wore out, how did they get replacements? How did Christ, his 12 apostles and his 72 disciples get by?

Luke's gospel gives at lest a partial explanation:

"He journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news. ... Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women. ... Mary Magdalene ... Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources."

The extent of the support these women provided we don't know. We know only that the women did provide for Christ and his followers.

After Christ's Ascension, we know his earliest followers strove to emulate his life, and to live without private property. "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's needs."

But the incident of Ananias and Sapphira shows that some of the early converts had second thoughts about selling all their possessions and putting them into a common fund to be distributed according to "each one's needs." If socialism should have ever worked, it should have worked for the early Christians. Christ had hand-picked his apostles.

Did the system break down when all the property donated to the community was used up? Or did distribution according to need prove problematic? Acts tells us that the Greek converts complained that the division favored the Hebrew converts.

Was there a communal rule that every member must work? Did distribution according to need seem unfair to the worker who produced four times as much as his less-productive neighbor?

If all share equally, do newborn children receive distribution equal to productive workers? Wives? Other children?

Christ's mission was at least partially funded by his female followers, and by generous householders, who gave shelter to his disciples. What if Christ's female followers had had no money? What if nobody could afford to provide his disciples with shelter?

Without money for food, shelter and clothing, could Christ have carried on his mission for three years? What if Christ had starved to death that first winter?

While we have no details, we known that abject poverty, communalism and socialism were soon abandoned by the early church. If men and women who were so dedicated to the cause of early Christianity that they were willing to sell all they had and place the proceeds in the hands of the apostles couldn't make socialism work, why would we expect the socialist true believers in Congress to do better than the apostles?

Churches close when charitable giving falls below a given level. Socialist societies struggle or fail when there are no more rich to plunder.

Here's my challenge:

If Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) can prove that socialism works by going to Venezuela and fixing the mess created by Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro, then they can reasonably say that U.S. voters should consider entrusting our economy to them.

John Donald O'Shea of Moline is a retired circuit court judge.

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