Through out much of the developed world now many people live as tenants of a landlord to whom they must pay rent.
This can be a situation that is beneficial to both parties. It can allow for greater freedom of movement and is especially useful in countries in which work may be seasonal or temporary. A mobile work force is a feature of many modern economies. However, rent as a permanent solution to housing is problematic.
Rent as a subject of modern economics has been has been discussed by the likes of Adam Smith in Wealth of the Nations and David Ricardo.
David Ricardo argued that although rent collected may be of benefit to the individual it has little social utility as nothing has been produced. This is a description of passive income gained as a rentier of little or no social benefit to anyone else in society. This is in contrast to the laborer or worker who produces goods and services which are of use.
In the biblical teaching of Leviticus 25, the Israelites are described as tenants and God is described as the landlord.
23“The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me.Leviticus 25:23
Gods supplants any human authority as possessor of the land. He reminds the Israelites that they are not permanent tenants, that eventually mortality will over take them and the land will be passed to another generation.
This God however intends to be a good landlord blessing his tenants with security, peace and prosperity. In contrast to the rentier extractors of wealth, God wants his tenants to prosper.
The rent paid to God for this land is not monetary. The Israelites were not expected to pay a rent to God or the religious authorities for this land. Instead the ‘rent’ was faithfulness to God and to his covenant with Israel.
Failure to ‘pay’ this rent was met with the threat of eviction. Jeremiah and the other prophets warned the Israelites that f they failed to honor the commitments of the Law and did not protect the poor, the widow and the orphan they would be evicted as captives of foreign nations.
The emphasis that Jeremiah and Isaiah and the other prophets put on social justice being the most important element of the covenant is striking.
1This is what the Lord says: “Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there: 2‘Hear the word of the Lord to you, king of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. 3This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. 4For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David’s throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. 5But if you do not obey these commands, declares the Lord, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.’ ”Jeremiah 22:1-5
This is not something that is often preached. All too often the prophets are presented as simply railing against idolatry.
13Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.Isaiah 1:13
17Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.Isaiah 1:17
Again, here Isaiah emphasizes that religious practice without requisite social justice is meaningless and is in fact offensive to God. In other words the Church must uphold social and economic justice if its offerings of praise, sacrifice and worship are to mean anything to God.
But back to the subject I began with. Now in many Western countries families find themselves in rent arears in commercial and social housing. Many of these families face the prospect of never being able to escape from this trap of rent arears debt and poverty. Ultimately for many of these people the consequence will be the break up of the family and a slow descent into homelessness or its nearest equivalent, such as living in cars, shelters, motels or charitable institutions.
For some this could mean the break up of the family and children going into social care.
With the advent of the COVID virus the need for a social Gospel that recognizes and addresses this need is now over whelming.