Selfishness is concern for self to the detriment of others. Not all entitlements spring from selfishness. With this said, my comments that follow zone in on those that do spring from selfishness. To receive entitlements is really to take from others. Note that I said “take” and not “receive.” There is no “giving” in this type of system. Entitlement states, “I deserve so someone take it from others and give it to me.” Robin Hood is the hero of the poor: take from the rich, give to the poor. The question for the poor is what attitude should I have?
This is a heart matter for a strong and tough person, a trusting and committed person. These poor must to strong and tough because they are often exploited and they know it; they are also trusting and committed because they entrust themselves to the Lord Jesus and remain committed in that trust. For these poor to refuse the entitled attitude of “I deserve it” they can look to the OT example of negative rights, as I noted in my earlier post on entitlements: what they might say, then, following this OT example, would be, “those rich will not (are not entitled) to oppress us.” This brings in another set of people (the rich) and only seeks to remove the oppression done to the poor but does not seek to take things from the rich. Simply, the rich will not take from the poor and the poor will not take from the rich.
The OT clarifies, “You must not deal unjustly in judgment: you must neither show partiality to the poor nor honor the rich. You must judge your neighbor by righteousness” (Lev. 19:15; translation mine from the Hebrew, italics mine). Look at how close Jesus repeats this Levitical principle but in different words: “Do not judge according to appearance but with righteous judgment you must judge” (Jn. 7:24). Notice all the negatives (nor, not, neither) and how Leviticus and Jesus disavow judging people according to their socio-economic status. Instead, both Yahweh (in Leviticus) and Jesus (in John) juxtapose their disagreement with this judging according to appearance (poor or rich or simply how someone looks) with how to judge properly, that is according to righteousness. Of course, we must know what “righteousness” is to know how to judge. It is clear from Scripture that righteousness, tsideqah in Hebrew, points to the teaching of the Law, the Torah, and also to Jesus’ complements to it. And here, to avoid controversy, let’s assume that “righteousness” focuses on the moral elements in the Law and in Jesus’ teaching.
But, if we look at people’s conformity to Jesus’ teaching and God’s law as the standard by which we judge, we do not simply see someone’s socio-economic status and conclude that they are entitled or disentitled. We neither see the rich and say, just because they are rich, that they should give their wealth away (disentitled to their wealth) nor do we see the poor and say, just because they are poor, you should be entitled to more wealth. And remember to be entitled (to other people’s stuff) implies taking from someone else, which then implies some measure of force.
What is particularly dangerous about entitlement is that those who have this entitlement attitude understand themselves as holding the moral high ground. But not having stuff and thinking you should have it and wanting someone to take it implies immorality, both in the force necessary to make this occur and in the envy that undergirds it. Simply “not having” does not produce moral currency (to put them on the high moral ground) that sets someone above “those that have.” Look what comes together in this thinking: “I deserve, someone take it and give it to me, and having the moral high ground justifies coercion, force, or even violence.” Following the example of our Lord Jesus, it is obvious that having the moral high ground does not put one in a position to take or engender an attitude of taking but, rather, to give and engendering an attitude of giving. Jesus holds the absolute highest moral high ground there is. Yet He deprives Himself of that lofty purity to come to earth to give Himself, making others pure: “He became poor so that we might become rich.”
B. T. Scalise