Monday, April 09, 2007

rich young rulers

This passage has been on my mind a lot for the last week, and I figured that this is the venue to dig into it a bit...

16 Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"
17 So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, tat is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."
18 He said to Him, "Which ones?" Jesus said, " 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,'
19 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' "
20 The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?"
21 Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

We've all heard this story. I think we usually associate a simple "you cannot serve God and mammon" or "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" message to it, both of which, among others, are appropriate.
The reason I've been considering this of late is on account of a simple realization that I just had about this tale: Jesus ended up sending this guy away. The young ruler apparently didn't have what it takes to inheirit enternal life. In the church today, however, we'd accept him with open arms, appreciate his tithing, and eventually, with an outstanding record like he had, make him a deacon.

Why is that not sitting well with me?

Christ was indeed testing where this man's heart was at and in such a way as we never see Him do again. Yet even one such test is unheard of in the church today. It seems we are not so worried about the state of the heart, the real state of the heart, as our Lord was.

G. K. Chesterton commented on this scripture and the avarice of Western culture in Orthodoxy:

I know that the most modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle. I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel.

As telling as this statement is, much more is the acknowledgement of this shift within the culture of the church today. With top-selling books like Your Best Life Now and the flood of this outrageous name-it-claim-it theology that treats God like an ATM machine and assures you of His desire for you to drive a Mercedes... these examples are perhaps over-used, but they are nonetheless accurate.

Thoreau's writings evidence his disgust of the advertising industry, then only in its earliest years in latter half of the 19th Century. Today, of course, advertising has grown beyond anything he could have imagined. The starting paragraphs of Stanley Baran's Introduction to Mass Communication read to this effect: today you will find a college student sitting in a Starbucks with his Apple MacBook in front of him wearing an American Eagle polo, Hollister pants, and Crocs, while Starbucks plays a CD throughout the shop that can be purchased at the register. You get the idea. Billions of dollars are poured into advertising yearly for the sole purpose of seeing consumers pour billions of dollars back into the product. Yet this whole economic system that we've carefully established exists as a sharp contrast to the economics of the early church seen in the Book of Acts where all who believed... sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all, as anyone had need (Acts 2:44-45).
As internetmonk well describes it:

The Apostles apply the Gospel broadly. There must be a different kind of economics. There must be a different kind of inclusion around the table and in relationships. There must be prayer, breaking bread, teaching doctrine, but there is more. You cannot leave out the issues of hunger, inclusion, assistance, mercy ministries, economics or even political theology. While you can point out the kinds of issues that weren’t addressed, it’s remarkable what kind of issues are addressed…and how they are addressed.
“Christian culture” is always a counter-culture, not a consumer culture, an entertainment culture or a political lobby. “The Church” is a gathering of people loyal to Jesus who believe certain things, but it is a movement of people who apply the gospel to those issues in their midst that demonstrate the meaning of the Kingdom of God.

Our finances should be 'demonstrating the meaning of the Kingdom of God.' This is the opportunity which Christ placed before the rich young ruler. The opportunity which horrified the young man and sent him from Christ's presence.

How broadly are we asking the church to apply the gospel? Is it okay to not let our faith effect the way we vote(as some politicians have boasted)? Can I safely ignore the food and water shortages of poor countries because I live in America? or leave the AIDS epidemic in the 'capable hands of the the experts' to be solved?
Should I really sell all that I have, and give it to the poor? Would Christ really ask that again? It sounds unreasonable to our ears, but is God concerned with the culture of Capitolism or the culture of the His Kingdom, where the possessions and goods are sold and divided among all, as any one has need?

We may be tempted to look at all of this as just a 'little nugget', or 'something to chew on', but since this issue, when honestly approached, divided the one man from Christ, I'm afraid we cannot avoid searching our own hearts, for while we keep all these commandments, including, we would say, "love your neighbor as yourself", Jesus may mean and demand more than we could ever guess.
My brother and I were talking about this at dinner the other night when he brought up a point I'd never considered: Protestantism, from it's very creation, has been reductionalist. The Reformation, with it's proclamations of 'sola scriptura' and such, was seeking to remove the fluff from the church, to return to the core of things of the faith. We see this still today in the emphasis on the personal relationship with Christ: just do this, say this prayer, and don't worry about the other stuff until later. Our idea of relating to God becomes very... minimalist. Yet if we are to claim the image put forth by St. Paul, that the church is the bride of Christ, we begin to see the problems with such a minimalist approach. A marriage doesn't work when the members are seeking to do as little as possible to simply get by, and so long as we have this mind-set the hard questions will remain unasked, and, more frighteningly, unanswered.


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