Friday, December 17, 2010
Why Simplicity? A Complex Answer, Part IV
From Luke 1, where poor teen-girl Mary - a Jewish gal in a land occupied by Rome and subject to Roman laws - has learned she will be the mother of the Messiah, she sang...
My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For God has had regard for the humble state of God's bondslave...
AND GOD'S MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION
TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR GOD.
God has done mighty deeds with God's arm;
God has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
God has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
GOD HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
God has given help to Israel God's servant...
You can't really mistake the undercurrent of resentment against the wealthy and oppressive leaders in favor of an oppressed poor folk. For Mary, the poor Jewish folk having the situation set aright seems to be part and parcel of the coming Kingdom of God to follow the Messiah's coming. Fair enough?
Continuing, as Jesus began his ministry he said (in Luke 4)...
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.
God has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, and
to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."
Note: Many, if not most, biblical scholars (John Wesley, for instance) would say that this quote (Jesus is actually quoting from Isaiah here) at the end - "the year acceptable to the Lord" - is a reference to the Year of Jubilee, in which land was returned/redistributed back to original owners. The Jubilee year, established back in Leviticus, earlier in Jewish history, was, itself, an effort to keep wealth from accumulating too much in too few hands, or at least some would say so.
It was a way of trying to make sure that poverty did not continue from generation to generation, but rather, if hard times fell upon a family and if they were unable to set things aright, eventually they would receive their land back. A "do-over," if you will. Perhaps also, the point might be made that this was a way of reminding us that we don't "own" land, that we're merely temporary caretakers.
This Jubilee way of thinking - good news specifically to the poor - was very much part of what Jesus saw as his Kingdom of God teachings, it would seem.
Continuing, in Jesus' famous and seminal Sermon on the Mount as found in Luke 6...
And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh...
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you...
To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Dang! That's some tough teaching. Give to EVERYONE who asks of you? Don't demand that the thief return your stuff??!! Really?
Do to others as you would have them do to you...
If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount.
But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High
Flipping over to Matthew, when John the Baptist was in prison and wondering if Jesus was "the One" Jesus said...
"Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM."
As at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, he again emphasizes that he is preaching the Good News specifically to the poor. This is evidence, in Jesus' and John's minds, that Jesus is of/from God.
And, in Matthew 19, Jesus said...
"Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven..."
It is "HARD for a RICH man to enter God's kingdom"??!! This is a tough teaching for we who are rich.
From Jesus' so-called "Model Prayer..."
Your kingdom come
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors...
For if you forgive others for their transgressions [literally, debts], your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
And from Matthew 6 (again, the Sermon on the Mount)...
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven... for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other You cannot serve God and wealth.
For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
...And why are you worried about clothing?
...Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?'
For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Creator knows that you need all these things.
But seek first God's kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
According to Jesus, the unbelievers (Gentiles) are worried about seeking after food, shelter, nice clothing, financial security. But Jesus is telling us, "Don't worry about that stuff, seek first God's kingdom..." Seeking wealth, Jesus says, is NOT part of the Kingdom of God which Jesus is ushering in and teaching us to live into here and now. Security is NOT from having many barns (or banks? or savings accounts? or investments??) to store up stuff for the possible crises of the future. Security comes in joining Jesus' gang, his followers, in the community and realm of God, THIS is where we find our security.
Looking past the Gospels, Paul says in Timothy...
A bishop must be irreproachable... gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money.
He must manage his own household well... not greedy for sordid gain...
If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things...
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.
Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share
And James had this to say...
The brother in lowly circumstances should take pride in his high standing, and the rich one in his lowliness, for he will pass away...
For the sun comes up with its scorching heat and dries up the grass, its flower droops, and the beauty of its appearance vanishes. So will the rich person fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Therefore, put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction...
My brothers, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings on his fingers and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes... have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?
Listen, my beloved brothers. Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him? But you dishonored the poor person. Are not the rich oppressing you? And do they themselves not haul you off to court? Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name that was invoked over you?
...If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?
Because of ALL of this, I gather some fairly basic principles:
1. Wealth can be - and often is - a trap, a snare.
2. There was a certain prejudice against the rich and in favor of the poor in the words of NT writers - sometimes uncomfortably harsh words are used against the rich as if they're speaking of ALL rich, not merely misbehaving rich. As if the assumption is: If you're rich, you're quite likely oppressive, blinded, trapped, seduced, needing to be thrown down and sent away hungry!
3. We are NOT to be of the type who pursue wealth (See #2), the pursuit of wealth is not to be a goal of ours
4. We are to be content with what we have
5. We are to live simply, sharing freely what we have with those in need
6. It is clearly not impossible for wealthy folk to be in the church, but it is a consistent matter of concern and caution
7. There is a very direct, insistent and consistent tying of what we're doing specifically with and for the poor with being part of God's kingdom
8. Everything is God's and we're merely caretakers
This is what I gather from these (and other) teachings. Beyond that, this is what makes some amount of sense to me. You?