Tag Archives: wealth

Upside down world

How good you are at the High Jump? You must at least have seen athletes on TV – a short run (but not straight at the bar), at the last minute they seem to turn away, and then jump with a curious swing of the legs. Somehow, it’s not an obvious way of doing it – and you will understand I don’t try.

I won’t even think about pole vaulting!

That seems a good way in to Jesus’ comments. (Luke 6:17-26). He had chosen 12 apostles, and gathered them, with others who had been following him, and a crowd of local onlookers. He was healing people, but, as always, teaching as well.

And it is his teaching which seems strange:

Blessed are you who are poor

Blessed are you who hunger now

Blessed are you who weep now

Blessed are you when people hate you Luke 6:20-22 part

There’s nothing happy about poverty – it is limiting, often uncomfortable, insecure. The same thing with hunger; we’re not talking about effective dieting, but about starvation, weakness, the risk of illness and inability to work or even move about freely. Crying, being hated – the same applies.

What can Jesus be talking about?

In part, he may be talking about spiritual poverty. (Matthew 5:3 reads “Blessed are the poor in spirit”) – but not entirely. Read carefully, and you see that Jesus is talking about people who are not entirely happy with the way things are now, on earth. They are not so heavily invested in the status quo that they aren’t actively looking for something better.

The poor will find the Kingdom of God because they know something is badly wrong with life here and now. The hungry will value the bread Jesus offers – not just at the feeding miracles. The hated have the nerve to be loyal to a Saviour unpopular with the establishment.

For those who don’t want to be disturbed, it gets worse. Luke adds verses Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” lacks:

“But woe to you who are rich, . .

Woe to you who are well fed now, . .

Woe to you who laugh now, . .

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, . .

We see that the same sort of explanation applies. A minority of Jesus followers were wealthy, and able to provide for their needy brothers and sisters. Jesus isn’t cursing them, but taking very seriously the dangers of complacency, of the wrong sort of contentment. (“I’m all right Jack, keep off what’s mine”). The well fed may be drowsy rather than alert to the need for justice. The laughers may scorn the abused. The popular may not have passed on the words of God, which sometimes warn or redirect.

Things are not what they seem. Those who appear to have done well – are in real danger. If you want to live well, you have to approach life, well, like a high jumper. A curious technique, which seems impossible until it works.

We aren’t poor, not by global standards. Nobody here is starving, and if some are sad and others have been the subject of gossip, it is the ordinary events of life, not critical destitution, we are speaking of.

Can we, then, find the motivation to live as Christians? Do we understand how lightly we must sit to wealth, posessions, even good times and good reputation?

Those who follow Jesus must go where he goes, see as he sees, and only then reach the promised glory. Perhaps we should talk more of the sinners in heaven, and less of our earthly success?

Wealth

“What must I do to receive eternal life?” It’s not a common question – I can’t remember being asked it. But that’s odd, for there is much interest in the spiritual, even in God. Obviously Christians are not expected to know the answers! You might want to think about whether that is good or bad.

Jesus is asked the question. (Mark 10:17-31). He refers to the ten commandments. (Exodus 20:1-17 though remember this is the Old Covenant). Commandments can be a problem for many now, who don’t want to be told, but to discover, who don’t want discipline and a consistent life. It is easier to collect religious objects (in your own time) or investigate the oddities of human behaviour (without relationship or commitment) than to live by a Covenant. But this young man at least has some understanding; he has done this, and wants more. Is there an advanced course, a way of proving himself?

Jesus sees the problem, and offers a solution. Sell everything and become a disciple! – but it is too much, and for 2 reasons.

  • The young man is rich; he can’t imagine life without his wealth, and the security, the comfort, the status it offers. Apparently even eternal life is not worth all that.
  • There’s more to it. He wanted to prove himself worthy – and that is not possible. Eternal life or salvation is God’s gift, not an earned reward. His wealth was a barrier getting in the way of his relationships.

When the young man has gone, Jesus warns his disciples about riches. He doesn’t say Christians must be poor, but he says that no-one who relies on wealth can receive salvation. For some of today’s “spiritual” people, that will be a barrier to following Jesus. Wanting their own way, a “designer spirituality”, they will not “follow”.

For some in today’s Churches, that will be a barrier to following Jesus. They want respectability, an endorsement of their social place and status. They would be offended to be told that Christians are sinners who recognise their need for help, and are united in failure, repentance, and salvation – which is a gift that cannot be earned.

Christianity is not flattering. It is not all about what a wonderful and unusually gifted person you are. It is about a God, who is truly awesome, who made us good and gifted – and will get us out of the mess we have made for ourselves.

Christianity is demanding. You can treat it like a hobby, and play with it when you have time or are in the mood. But that won’t do you much good. Christian faith is relationship based. It is not measured by emotion, but by committed action. You love God? Don’t tell me how much; let everybody see how you allow nothing to get in the way of that.

Nothing.

At all.

Weird!

Weird! That’s the only word for this story.  (Mark 9:2-9)

Jesus takes three disciples up a mountain – and glows ?!

Yet it is clearly important. All of the first three gospel writers tell it, after Peter’s key recognition of Jesus as Messiah. But even the disciples don’t seem to understand at the time, and we struggle to make sense of it.

I think it helps our focus.  Jesus has done some amazing things – healings and other miracles. His teaching is sometimes puzzling, but popular. The disciples enjoy some of Jesus fame, busy themselves with crowd control, – and haven’t noticed the change that is coming.

Jesus has started to talk about suffering, coming in Jerusalem. His followers seem unable to hear. They are focussed on senior positions with the new King.

Which is what Paul was speaking of in 2 Cor 4:4 “the god of this world has blinded . . to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ”. The Christians gospel is wonderful news, for all sorts of people – and many fail to hear because it does not lead to fame, celebrity, wealth, or simply getting your own way.

For us, like the disciples, freedom and forgiveness seem less than giving love, service and obedience. It is a very normal temptation.

Jesus’ Transfiguration is weird – or, if you prefer, unexpected and unparallelled. He appears in otherworldly light, with the representatives of the Old Testament Law and prophets, to place the Son of God firmly in the sweep of God’s plan. The voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to Him” underlines the point.

And the disciples need to listen – they have much to learn. Jesus chosen path will per, frighten and test them. They have to know He is the one to follow without hesitation.

And so do we! We read this before Lent. If we think of the cost of Christian faith – what it means to take it seriously, and not just go through the motions – we need confidence Jesus knows what He is doing, and what He asks of us.

Perhaps the Transfiguration was deliberately a weird experience – outside all routine. Perhaps only something strange and bizarre would ready them for a Messiah who also chose to accept the role of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant.

There is always more to faith than meets the eye, more to learn, and we still need to go on learning.

Not mine! (Proper 13, Pentecost 11)

It is hard being poor!  Not that I have direct experience, but working with Christians Against Poverty Swansea Debt Centre brings reminders and stories.  It might be enough to make me anxious, or reinforce my mean nature, but this weeks reading in Luke 12:13-21 is a good antidote.

Jesus refuses to arbitrate an inheritance dispute (did he want to leave it to those appointed for this, or recognise that to divide a small inheritance would leave no-one enough, or was he just making a point?).  He goes on to talk about greed, and tells a parable about a rich man who plans a life of idle luxury, and dies before he can enjoy it.

He doesn’t complain about the good harvest, nor even the man’s riches, but about perhaps three other things.  First, this man is stupid to forget his mortality; he can’t control how long he will live.  Death isn’t something we talk much about, but perhaps it ought to be better prepared for – hopefully not because terrorism makes sudden death more common.

Then there is his obvious selfishness.  He either totally fails to recognise the needs of others, or thinks they are none of his concern.  It looks almost as if the person has been taken over by his possessions – who is making use of who?  In any case, he is quite wrong; the whole point of the abundance of the earth’s resources is that they are for the benefit of all God’s people.  Those who are rich have added responsibility, and an opportunity for good (remember the Good Samaritan?).

Thirdly, he misses a safety net.  If he had only paused to thank God for his gift, he might have been led to remember that nothing we have is “owned”, but only ever “lent”.  Just as we tell children to be specially careful of how they treat something belonging to someone else, so we need to relabel “mine” as “God’s loan”.  Perhaps it is only a verbal trick, but it helps sort my attitudes.

Generosity is not something we talk about much.  Which is odd, when from a world point of view we in Britain are so rich.  Luke, and the other gospel writers, make it clear that this is a gospel issue.  How we own / deal with God’s loan, is central to our life with God.  Poverty is hard, but wealth may be even more disabling if not handled with faith and generosity.