Sunday, October 29, 2006

A rich man and Jesus

The Gospel reading in church this morning was Mark 10:17-31--the story of the rich man who approached Jesus to ask what he needed to do to "inherit eternal life."

After reminding him of the commandments that related to how we should treat people, Jesus went on to tell him that he only lacked one thing:

"Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Challenging words to a man who possessed "great wealth."

The man's face fell and he went away in a deep funk because he found the requirement too onerous to fulfill or even pursue.

Jesus went on to instruct those who were with him regarding "how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God."

In fact, he told them that it was "easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Those who were with him were amazed, likely alarmed, and concluded that if this were the case no one could be "saved."

Jesus went on to tell them that "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

Bottom line: it takes an act of God to save a rich person such as myself in a world of hurt and need like this one!

I guess that is the meaning of the gospel.

That said, it is very, very clear that Jesus expects people who attach themselves to his name to be radically engaged in working with the poor, those in need and those who are oppressed.

I am wondering though. Have you ever known anyone who took this story so seriously that they did what Jesus suggests here? Ever know anyone who sold out, gave to the poor and entered on a more radical path through life? I'd love to hear your stories.


John Greenan said...

I'm afraid neither I, nor anyone I know, has taken that step. But I have an interesting gloss on the phrase "eye of the needle" that I can't resist offering.

According to Sahara: A Natural History, a book I finished reading a couple of months ago, the "eye of the needle" is a low gate into the corral where camels are kept. Because a camel has to get down on its knees and crawl through this entryway, it serves as a "gate". Again, according to Sahara, this term is in common use over all of North Africa.

So, assuming that this explains the reference in the Gospel, it may mean not that it is impossible for a rich man to enter Heaven, but rather that it is something they would not choose to do without being led to it.


Larry James said...

Thanks for this note, John. While I am not familiar with the information you share here regarding the details of camel herding, I am aware of an ancient "urban myth" about a long lost gate in the wall of Jerusalem that was called the Camel gate. It was supposedly so low that camels had to drop to their knees to get through. No respected archeologist takes this tradition seriously, as no such gate exists.

I find the responses of the disciples of Jesus a bit incomprehensible in view of the gloss you reference and the myth about the little gate in the wall.

I do believe you are onto something though in your bottom line interpretation: the rich (as in me and you!) must decide to go in a counterintuitive way to align with the principles of the Kingdom Jesus has in mind.

Justin said...

I thought Jesus called a Roman guard to go force that guy to give away his wealth.... you mean, he let the guy make his own decision on whether or not he should give away what he had. Too bad Jim Wallis wasn't there... he'd have sent the Roman Guard after him

Anonymous said...

Sure... blame Jim Wallis -- It's his fault we have a government based on secular humanism...

Justin, you're under the impression the government is apparently Christian even though you say you don't want it to be, because you say the government should not be forcing people to care for the poor (previous posts on here). The idea of taking care of the poor is not some uniquely Christian concept.

It's okay for the government to care for poor people. Christians don't have a monopoly on that idea. The government's whole "promote the general welfare" concept is a secular humanist ideology. And if democratically elected people may determine that the government should keep the forces of capitalism in check so people are not taken advantage of, then so be it.

If you want a respectful discussion, great. But don't resort to these little one-liner sarcastic quips.

Justin said...

I don't think there's anything Christian about the government. There can't be. The government uses the sword to accomplish what it wants to. This is inherently non christian.

How has the government helped poor people in the last century? Sure, it handed out money, but I still see poverty everywhere I go, and I see a subculture (african americans) who have become dependent upon a government that uses their voting block for political purposes. Democrats had control of congress for how many years before 94... was that no enough time to get rid of poverty? Did they make the situation better? Maybe in some aspects. But a lot of what they did was disintegrate the black family. And you see the result of it now. Single mothers trying to feed multiple children with no father to be found. Now they need daycare. The welfare system used to (I don't know if its been reformed) encourage having children because benefits increased with the number of children one had. Do I want children to starve? Absolutely not! But handing out money rarely helps the problem. Its systematic and it takes relationship and responsibility to overcome it... but when its just a government check being sent out monthly, there's no relationship there. There's no answer to getting out of the cycle... it just continues to trap generation after generation in the same s*** hole that their parents were in because they don't know any different and they've never been told that they matter.

Besides that, the constitution says "promote the general welfare" not "provide general welfare". There is no constitutional argument for massive wealth redistribution that we have (there wasn't even constitutional argument for an income tax. they had to amend things). Maybe I'm just cynical, but it seems to me that many of those fat cats in washington would rather use the treasury to help the poor (and keep themselves in office) than to actually try to fix the problem.

Its insulting when someone who makes hundreds of thousands (if not millions of dollars a year) is trying to tell those who are staunchly middle class that they are making too much money and they need to give it to the almighty government to help people. Jesus never used force to do that. When we petition the government to do it... we're basically saying "well, no one will listen and the church won't act, so we'll go Robin Hood on their asses."

It is just as wrong to steal as it is to neglect the poor. And taxation for entitlements is basically legalized stealing.

I know someone is going to say that I hate poor people or that i just want to keep my money. I don't hate poor people but I do want to keep my money, but not because I want more for myself. I'd rather give it to Larry, or to HOPEWORKS in memphis, or an organization that is on the ground building relationships and believes that people matter, and who aren't motivated by keeping power and who don't have to steal to fund their programs.

Anonymous said...

"Jesus never used force to do that. When we petition the government to do it... "

That's what I'm trying to get at. Jesus does not equal government. Government is human. Jesus is eternal. There's complete separation there. Who is the "we"? Christians? Secularists, people who don't believe in God, are calling for the government to help the poor, too. This isn't simply a "Christian" thing.

As far as the government is concerned, it doesn't matter what Jesus did/didn't say or do -- many people who don't believe in Jesus are calling for the same thing.

Second, very little of the government money comes in the form of a "check" now. CDCDC isn't building it's $25 million Akard project in downtown Dallas on its own. Around half of the money came from the government in the form of $12 million tax credits (which they can sell to development companies). No government effort towards poverty, no money for CDCDC, which in turn means no housing for low-income people.

Ask any faith-based organization if they want the government involved in poverty. When you get into running a nonprofit, you'll realize how important the government's role is in poverty.

Justin said...

Would it not be better if they only supported privately managed groups? There would be way more money availible to do things and being closer to the ground, private organizations (especially ones motivated by love for Christ) can see exactly what is needed rather than just throwing money at the problem.

I realize that CDM is using government funds for their building. But how much better would it be if they could support everything they are doing now, or more with funds coming straight from Christians and free from government intervention. As I understand it (correct me if I'm wrong) when you take government funds, you have to do what the government says. Does that not get in the way of spreading the gospel.

I think in a perfect world (or in a world where the Kingdom was preached and lived) we wouldn't need the government.

I apologize for subscribing to the tradition of our restoration history fathers (Lipscomb and Harding) who stayed out of the government as much as was humanly possible, but did huge things for the poor.

Anonymous said...

Ideally yes, but private groups have have only limited coverage... Rural areas often have little or no services when in need. Basic government welfare serves as a baseline to cover all people regardless of available resources.

Actually, government grants/funding have very little influence on what faith-based nonprofits can and can't do. Most government money typically has two requirements: 1) you can't use earmarked government money for specifically religious purposes (i.e. you gotta raise your own money for your praise team or evangelism tracts or whatever religious icon you want) and 2) you can't force clients to attend church, religious activites, etc. as a requirement for receiving services (Not too many Christians want to do that anyway).

"I apologize..."

Apology accepted!
(While I appreciate the dialogue, I felt your ending remark was somewhat disparaging.)

Larry James said...

Justin and all, thanks for the posts.

I believe a good history of the U. S. from the end of the Depression to present would be a good read here. Social policy in this nation has gone back and forth, but it is an undeniable, historic truth that government policy can and has affected the level of poverty in this nation.

The politics of the church, especially denominations like Churches of Christ, have downplayed the truly remarkable impact of the policies of FDR, LBJ and even Richard Nixon. Entire segments of the population were lifted out of poverty an into the opportunity of the middle class.

The remaining underclass could be doing better were it not for our consumeristic policies that guarantee very, very low prices. And then, there is racism and the institutional realities of that.

"Entitlements"--there is a slippery concept! Corporate benefits from the govt somehow aren't normally seen this way; nor are tax exemptions for churches, or mortgage deductions for home owners or Medicare for the elderly middle class. . .but all really are and all impact economic reality.

For people not to express their values in the political realm is a foolish surrender of opportunity.

As to govt interference in our work, it just doesn't happen. Another myth perpetrated by TV evangelists and others who simply have a bias against anything collective.

All of this said, I am more than willing to receive $6 million from the church community. I think everyone has our address!