Posts Tagged With: possessions

Luke 18: Stuck in the Eye of the Needle

As we read through Luke, we keep coming back to money.  That is no surprise, knowing Luke is the “social justice gospel.”  Luke’s Jesus talks about money almost as much as Matthew’s Jesus attacked the Jewish religious leaders.

Is it wrong to be rich?  That’s a loaded question.  It is also an impossible question because “rich” is entirely relative.  Are you rich if you make more than $50K in America as that is roughly the median household income?  Are you rich if you have three cars?  Are you rich if you have one car and don’t have to ride the bus?  If you are a welfare mother in Memphis with four kids to feed, you are poor, right?  But isn’t she rich compared to a many people in Africa or a leper in the slums of Calcutta?  And does how you use your money make you more or less rich?  And what do you have to do to not be rich?  How much do you have to give away?  Do you have to stop clothing your kids at Aeropostale and shop at Wal-Mart instead?  But aren’t you still spending more than at Goodwill?  You can always give up more, so trying to draw a line between poor and rich seems a bit arbitrary, slippery, and maybe even self-serving.

Here is a better question: Does wealth make following Jesus harder?  I feel much more comfortable answering that one, and “rich” can remain as relative as it clearly is.  It seems Luke’s answer is a resounding “yes.”

Jesus saw that he [the rich young ruler] had become sad, and said, “How hard it is for those with possessions to enter God’s kingdom!  Yes: it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom.” (18:24-25)

First let’s deal with Jesus’ wording and one misconception: I like the way N. T. Wright phrases the first part of Jesus’ response, “those with possessions.”  This is a reminder that the real issue in possessing something with clenched fists as if it is our own and with an unwillingness to let it go.  Rich people can do this.  But poor people can too.  Trying to serve our selfish desires while also serving God, that is when the problems come.  Next, there once was a belief that there was a now-lost gate in ancient Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle” that was very short, so short that camels had to get down on their knees to crawl through, and that this is what Jesus was referring to here.  Hence, it is not impossible for a camel to go through the “eye of the needle,” and it is not impossible for rich people to enter God’s kingdom.  However, F. F. Bruce and others have made it clear that there is absolutely no archaeological evidence for such a gate, and the next two verses make it clear that Jesus is talking about an impossible feat.

Does having money make some things in life easier?  Certainly.  That is why most parents get a bit nervous when our kids say they want to grow up to be artists and musicians, not dentists and pharmaceutical salespeople.  That is often why we encourage people to stay in school (there are better reasons, but let’s be real about a lot of people’s motivations).  That is why we encourage our kids to work hard, to seek promotions, to save, to eliminate debt, to invest and squirrel away for retirement.  The American Dream — I daresay, all of capitalism — is based on the belief that money makes life better or easier and we wouldn’t be going on three hundred years of American capitalism if it were not at least partially true.

But in a culture like America (and Canada and Europe and free Asia and so much of this “flat earth,” as Thomas Friedman called it) where the philosophy of materialism (all that exists is that which is tangible and material) and the practice of affluence (let’s have as much of that material as possible, because it will make me happy and solve my problems) are part of the dominant worldview that is in opposition to that described in the Bible, it is absolutely imperative that we hear Jesus clearly here and decide whether we really believe what he is saying.  This is a proverbial “line in the sand.”  Attachment to material possessions makes following Jesus harder.  It becomes easier to become attached to material possessions the more we become able to attain possessions (i.e., when we are rich, whatever that means in a given context).  The more we have, the more we feed the desire to have.  The more we try to satiate our needs with stuff, the more we teach ourselves that stuff makes us happy, thus do what it takes to be able to procure stuff.  These are not comfortable words to write.  They are very indicting.  They confront the very culture most, if not all of us, are living in.  But they seem to be what Jesus is saying.

Let me end with a concrete example of what I am talking about here.  Each summer and often once or twice during the school year, a group of my students and adult friends travel to an orphanage in Ghana, West Africa that we help support at our school.  These kids come from nothing and, though their quality of life at the orphanage is actually pretty good by African standards, they still lack much of what we would call essential.  Nonetheless, the most common statement I hear from students who return from Ghana is this: “I wish I were there.  I can’t wait to go back.  Life is so much simpler there.  Those kids know what really matters.  They teach me that so much of what I have is unnecessary.  I think they are actually happier than I am.”

Could it be that our affluence is, in fact, making life with God harder?

What do you think?

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Luke 14: Upside-Down Sayings

This Jesus we follow has made us a part of an upside-down kingdom.  There is what we know to be normal and conventional; Jesus’ way is usually the opposite.  I am drawn to the many sayings of Jesus that really illustrate this.  They speak such truth.  They are attractive in how contradictory they are to everything we know.  At the same time, they are also maddening because they call us to a new way of thinking that is uncomfortable and disorienting, so they are not how we would normally go about life.

Today’s chapter is full of those upside-down kingdom statements:

  • Don’t let your traditions guide all you do (14:3-6)
  • Don’t take a good seat at a party (14:7-11)
  • Don’t expect those most like you to accept your invitation to dinner (14:12-24)
  • Don’t think family is most important (14:26-27)
  • Don’t try to hang on to your possessions (14:33)

Jesus way may be upside-down to the way we normally think, but could it be that this makes all the difference?

What caught your eye in this chapter?

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Luke 12: Beware of All Greed!

I think there maybe no more timely verses for this world than these from today’s reading:

Watch out and beware of all greed!  Your life doesn’t consist of the sum total of your possessions. . . . So don’t go hunting about for what to eat or what to drink, and don’t be anxious.  The nations of the world go searching for all that stuff, and your father knows you need it.  This is what you should search for: God’s kingdom!  Then all the rest will be given you as well. (12:15, 29-32)

I don’t know a modern American Christian for whom greed and anxiety over money is not a temptation at least potentially.  That is what comes when you live in a culture focused on money and materialism.

I don’t think there are any great secrets to conquering greed, at least not in our context (maybe you know one?).  I only conclude that with prayer and accountability we have to raise this struggle to the conscious level and fight it aggressively.  Maybe we ask ourselves why we are purchasing what we do.  Maybe we regularly deny ourselves certain intended purchases and extravagances.  I know spending time in environments far less affluent helps considerably.  So too does the practice of sacrificial giving to others.  Another big help is what Jesus says here.  Get busy trying to advance God’s kingdom and little by little, over a lifetime maybe, the trinkets of this world become less attractive.  At least that is what I am telling myself.

How do you fight greed, anxiety about money, and the temptation to be materialistic?

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Matthew 6: Kingdom Priorities

If the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ manifesto about this new kingdom he is bringing, what is truly important in this new way of seeing life?  Jesus answers that question with as many explanations of what is not important as he does the affirmative.

The praise of your fellow man is not top priority.  Do your religious acts like tithing, prayer and fasting but if you are doing those to get praise from your neighbors and friends you have missed the point.  That momentary praise is all you will get.  Kingdom-people seek the praise of the Father who sees what is done without fan-fare or the spotlight (6:1-18).

The treasures of this earth are not top priority.  Nice clothes get moth-eaten.  Piles of coins get rusty.  Houses fall apart.  Cars get dented.  Jewelry gets stolen.  Investment portfolios crash.  Educational degrees become out-of-date.  Power and status are lost.  Beauty fades.  All these treasures broadcast to the world what is truly valuable to us, and this may not be complimentary.  Kingdom-people store up treasures in heaven.  These will never fade away, lose value or be lost.  And don’t tell yourself you can actually have them both; you can’t (6:19-24).

The needs of this world are not top priority either.  Food, drink and clothing might be at the top of Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” and we do need these, but we don’t get them by seeking after them.  God knows what we need and he will provide.  The worry that comes from a preoccupation with these physical needs will only detract from our occupation of advancing the Kingdom.  Kingdom people focus with faith on the needs of the world to come (6:25-34).

So don’t worry away with your “What’ll we eat?” and “What’ll we drink?” and “What’ll we wear?”  Those are all the kinds of things the Gentiles fuss about, and your heavenly father knows you need them all.  Instead, make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life, and all these things will be given to you as well. (6:31-33)

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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