Monday, April 7, 2014

What Would That Look Like?


Craig recently asked me some questions regarding the "I have come to bring good news to the poor" quote with which Jesus defined and began his ministry. I thought the questions and answers were worth repeating here. Good questions, Craig. Here's my attempt at an answer...
1. You use this quote a lot, but what do you think it means?
 
The easiest and most direct answer I can give is, I don't know specifically what Jesus meant. No one can know. Jesus has not told us.

Jesus never defined the meaning of what he said in this passage  (or when John the Baptist's followers asked Jesus if he was "the One" and Jesus replied, "Tell John, the poor have the gospel preached to them..." or other similar passages).
But taking a crack at a guess, I think Jesus was always speaking of the Gospel of God's Grace and, in his time and context, it was always in contrast to the "gospel" (actually, the "bad news") of salvation by rule-following, by being "favored" by God with power, money and privilege. I think Jesus was always speaking of the Open Door Invitation to ALL to be part of the God Movement, to be part of the great Feast.
I think that - especially in his day, but also now - the poor, the widows, the divorced (women, especially), the foreigners, the sick... these were all part of a group that was societally marginalized and kept OUT of "the holy of holies," both literally and figuratively. They were outcast, poor, starving, struggling, NOT welcome.
Into this context, Jesus came preaching the Good News of God's Kingom where one enters by Grace, not by merit, not by standing, not by wealth, not by one's good name. In this Kingdom, the poor and marginalized are not only tolerated, not only welcome, but they are specifically sought out. This is the Kingdom for all, especially and specifically "the poor," and least of these.
And the good news is this is not just some pie in the sky by and by promise of "One Day," it's God's Realm come, God's Will be done on earth. NOW... as it is in heaven. Society's tendency might be to exclude or, at best, put up with these "least of these," but not God, nor those who will want to follow God. For God's followers, the poor and society's outcasts are specifically wanted, beloved, treasured and cherished. This is THEIR kingdom to be a part of, here and now.
Given all of what the Bible has to say on the topic, that would be my guess. And, of course, not mine alone... many others have pointed this out. For instance, John Wesley, who spoke of not laying up treasures on earth and said...
May not this be another reason why rich men shall so hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven A vast majority of them are under a curse, under the peculiar curse of God; inasmuch as in the general tenor of their lives they are not only robbing God continually, embezzling and wasting their Lord's goods, and by that very means corrupting their own souls; but also robbing the poor, the hungry...
For Wesley and many others, this good news WAS good news specifically to the poor for the sort of reasons I have suggested.
Craig...
2. What, specifically, was the “good news” Jesus preached to the poor?
Again, specifically, we don't know. Jesus did not tell us specifically what he meant. But generally, we see this notion repeated often through the Bible, especially the New Testament. Jesus tells John the Baptist he can rest easy because he - Jesus - IS the One and John can tell this is the case because, in part, the poor have the good news preached to them. This would be a comfort to John the Baptist because John held the same concern for the poor. We see that when John preached repentance to the people, and the people responded, what should we do, specifically...?, John answered...
“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
We see the notion repeated when Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast, and the rich, privileged and powerful who are invited only to respond by beating up "God's" servants, but the invitation is not only for them (and indeed, their pride and hubris leads to punishment) but specifically for and to the poor and marginalized.
It's an oft-repeated theme throughout the Bible, this notion of a God for the Least of These, a God - and a community - for the poor, the marginalized, the otherwise UN-welcome.
Generally speaking, then, I think it is speaking about the "good news" that God's Realm and community, here and now!, is open to all, and specifically to those who have so little. The idea of a welcoming, sharing, loving community would be good news, indeed.
Craig...
3. What, specifically, does this mean for us?
That, we, too, are to be a community especially for the poor and otherwise marginalized... A place where poor, hungry, disabled people will be GLAD to hear the news of this sort of inclusive community.
Craig...
4. What, specifically, should be happening that is not in order for us to “preach good news to the poor”?
 
Given the biblical example, front to back, the HEAVY emphasis on an open community that reaches out specifically to and WITH the poor and marginalized (and not in a patriarchal, Helper-Helpee sort of way, but truly as equal brother and sisters), I think God's community today should specifically look like that.
Wesley and others were appalled at the notion of extra, extravagant spending when so many are poor and struggling and I think rightly so. So, while our approaches will be different and would and should (given the core value of Grace that is Christianity) be flexible and not legalistic, I would think that would look like...

We'd have fewer "crystal cathedrals" and more simple, Open Door meeting houses.
I would that that we'd have more intentional community and less gated community.
I would think we'd tend to have smaller, localized, neighborhood-based churches and fewer "mega-" "super-sized" churches.
I would think we'd have fewer gilded art galleries and more outsider art.
I would think there'd be more formal and informal "adopting" of children and families in need, more direct friendships and partnerships with poorer folk, more time spent listening to the plight of the poor first hand, one-on-one, at their hovel or tent-site and much less time spent condemning the poor as lazy "cadillac queens..."
It would be more egalitarian and bottom up, rather than authoritarian and top-down.
In short, I'd think we would look more like the example of the early church, where the deacons' job wasn't lording it over the church and being the Deciders and Building managers, but in serving the poor, specifically, in an equitable, helpful manner. Probably not too unlike your work in Haiti (although, of course, I don't know specifcally what that looks like).
Good questions. I hope my answers are not found to be too unreasonable.

I would also point to the example of Jesus and the early church for hints as to what it should look and feel like.

We anabaptists (among others) not only take Jesus' teachings pretty literally, we take the example of the early church pretty literally. It is a good model of what I think the church should look like, in general (again, avoiding the trap of legalistically making the early church a model of Rules to heed to, or else!).
 
From the book of Acts, we see the early church described thusly...
 
They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching
and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Reverential awe came over everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles.
All who believed were together and
held everything in common, and
they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need.
Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts,
breaking bread from house to house,
sharing their food with glad and humble hearts,
praising God and having the good will of all the people. 
 
This was a spiritual home that would be literally good news for the literal poor.
 
Continuing from Acts...
 
All the believers were one in heart and mind.
No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own,
but they shared everything they had.
With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all
that there were no needy persons ! among them.
For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales
and put it at the apostles’ feet,
and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Wow, right?
 
And when problems arose...
 
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
 
So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.
 
Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.
We will turn this responsibility over to them
and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
So, we see some division of roles (and perhaps some condescending remarks about "waiting on tables..." because, after all, the apostles were not perfect) and organized efforts to maintain the practice of sharing to strive to maintain that there were "NO need persons" among them.
I would love to see churches that looked more like this: More intentional communities, more sharing, more tending the needs specifically of the poor, having the goal that there'd be NO needy among them, finding meaningful work and roles for everyone in an egalitarian, communal, Christian life.
 
Those are some of my thoughts on the topic. For what they're worth.

1 comment:

Marshall Art said...

Don't know if you're aware of if you care, but my response to this post is at my blog.