Monday, June 13, 2005

Sunday Gospel Reading

I recently got into a discussion with a Chaplain about Jesus’ injunction for us to sell all and follow Him. The Chaplain told me that passage is Jesus telling us not to be overly fond of material goods, but that there really is nothing wrong with acquiring possessions.
I asked the Chaplain if Jesus misspoke. Did He actually mean to say keep some of these commandments, and keep most of your stuff, except some of the junk you don’t want anyway but which the poor would be really happy to have? At that point, the Chaplain began talking about context, and translations and blah blah blah. And I tuned out. I find that argument unpersuasive to the point of being offensive because the speaker essentially says “I know better than what the Bible and Jesus said.”
The Chaplain’s point of view was understandable when I heard him going on at length, declaiming on the relative benefits of the Eddie Bauer Expedition that he has, and the Cadillac Escalade that he wants.
But I digress. Let’s read today’s passage. Mark 17-30.

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

And the disciples were astonished at his words.

But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

nd they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?

And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.

And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.

Gregg Easterbrook, football columnist for theNFL, contributor to and columnist for Opinion Journal of the Wall Street Journal (I am pretty impressed with him.) wrote an article arguing that a compromise for those who want to post the Ten Commandments and those who are adamantly opposed to such a thing can be found in this passage. When the rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life, Jesus reels off six of the Ten Commandments. Missing from Jesus’ Big Six are the ones dealing specifically with religious practices. The ones Jesus names are prohibitions that everyone can agree on. This observation is the basis for the Easterbrook Compromise. If Christians would argue to post the Big Six, secularists would have a hard time arguing against the sentiments contained in that list. Everyone would be happy.

This is also a point where Jesus preemptively posits against Paul’s doctrine of salvation by grace. The young man asks “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus could have said “You don’t need to do anything, just believe in me.” That is what Paul would have had Jesus say. Instead, Jesus says “Do this, don’t do that, go thy way, sell your possessions, give to the poor, take up my Cross, follow me.” Seems pretty clear that Jesus’ vision of Christianity is activist. To argue otherwise, like the Materialist Chaplain, is to substitute your own fallen point of view for Jesus’ directions.

Finally, we hear Jesus advocating that we leave not only our possessions behind, but also our families, for His sake. Here, He is kind to Peter and approaches the subject obliquely but there are other times in the Gospels where Jesus is much more explicit, at one point calling us in Luke 14:26 to If any [man] come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

That seems pretty clear to me and not contradictory in the least. Jesus calls us to hate this life but live it, hate our family but honor and keep them. Anything less, and we fail. We cannot be His disciples. We are sinners, and worthless in the eyes of God.

This is where grace comes in. Jesus calls us to do things and think things that we, the miserable fallen failures that we are, cannot possibly accomplish. Yet, Jesus wants us to love Him and believe in Him, and He will forgive us and make our hearts white like snow. Is this contradictory? No because with God, all things are possible. What makes it seem contradictory to us is our puny intellects and lack of divine insight. The nature of Christianity is imponderable and must only be accepted as faith.

Every day, I wake up, look at the Cross over my bed which is engraved with the words from Amazing Grace, and ponder the promise contained in the words “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” I am wretched because I fail Him everyday and desperately need His forgiveness.