Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Wise May Bring Their Learning, The Rich May Bring Their Wealth

a few days ago, my wife attended a meeting with some other women at our church. in the discussion, the occupy wall street protests came up. one woman commented that what the protestors didn't understand was that the wealthy were responsible for most of the giving in the country, and therefore should be allowed to keep more of their wealth so that their generosity would be encouraged. another agreed. my wife and the others said nothing, because these remarks had diverted the discussion from the topic of the meeting, and they returned to the topic at hand.

when my wife came home, we discussed what had been said. we were both astonished at the attitude of the two women who had used this occasion to condemn the "occupy" movement. this hit home to me so soon after reading about Jesus' comments concerning the giving of the poor widow in comparison to the giving of the wealthy and my post about my thoughts. again, i was reminded of the great division in our country between those who have so much and the remainder of the people. i cannot understand why there are those who cannot see that the current situation will not sustain our democracy. we must not allow an economic system that concentrates more and more of the wealth of the nation in the hands of fewer and fewer people. we have witnessed a great transfer of resources from those who produce the wealth to those who control the economic system. when huge salaries are paid to speculators and those highest on the corporate ladder are paid salaries and bonuses far beyond what they deserve at the expense of those who have produced the resources for those salaries and bonuses, our economic system is broken, and its brokenness must be repaired.

obviously, i am in sympathy with the "occupy" protestors and admire their efforts to call attention to the economic inequities in our country. my prayer today is that those in power will heed the call of the protestors to make the american dream possible once more, to restore the confidence of our people in the promise of our democracy, and to lead us to address the common good rather than the good of the wealthiest few. the way i read it, the gospel demands that we do so.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

All Things Are Thine; No Gift Have We, Lord of All Gifts, to Offer Thee:

shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus observed those who were making offerings of money in the temple (mark 12:41-44). He saw the wealthy give large amounts, but among those in the crowd was a poor widow. after seeing the widow's meager offering, Jesus called His disciples to Him, and commented that, even though the rich made much larger gifts, the widow's gift was much greater. The gifts of the rich hardly made a dent in their great wealth, but the widow gave "all she had to live on" (mark 12:44).

this teaching of Jesus caused me to think about our present economic situation. the very soul of the united states is being determined by the actions of those we've elected. we have on the one hand large numbers of our people who are jobless--good, honest people with families who are turning to charity to sustain them, who are losing the homes they've worked so hard to buy, who want to work and will take the most menial jobs in order to provide for their families. we have thousands of well-educated college graduates who've invested large sums to acquire their educations, often financing their educations by borrowing money, who cannot find work. on the other hand, we have many wealthy individuals and families who are untouched by the economic problems of the country. their wealth continues to grow, and their allies in government are arguing that to ask them to contribute more to alleviate the suffering of the remainder of the country amounts to "class warfare." Large corporations are hoarding huge sums that could be used to put people to work, and their allies in government argue that these "job creators" should not be required to use their resources for the common good.

for me, the implications of Jesus' words to His disciples is clear. those who have great wealth also have great responsibilities. from those who have much, much is required. the small gift of the poor widow represented a great sacrifice on her part, while the large gifts of the rich required no sacrifice. their remaining wealth was more than enough to take care of their needs, while the widow had little left to provide the necessities of life.

my prayer today is that we see the implications of Jesus' teaching. we are obligated to care for one another, and those who have it in their power to give of their abundance to alleviate the suffering of those who are hurting are obligated by the gospel of Jesus to do so. this teaching applies not only to our private lives, but to our public lives as well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

One Great Fellowship of Love Throughout the Whole Wide Earth

as i re-read the gospel of mark a few days ago, i wondered about the decapolis, the region in which the man, legion, from whom Jesus cast out a number of demons, lived. i discovered as i researched that these ten cities comprising the "decapolis" were quite different from other areas of palestine. they were, in fact, more greek than jewish or roman, city-states very much on the greek model. this accounts for the raising of pigs like the herd into which Jesus sent the demons that He cast out of legion. it also explains the reaction of the inhabitants of the region, who, unlike the common folk of galilee, feared Jesus and wanted Him to leave.

this discovery that Jesus had gone to an area that was not just hellenistic in culture, but truly an extension of greek ethnicity in the midst of the predominately jewish population led me to think of a part of Jesus' ministry to which i had given little consideration. Jesus later travels to tyre, where he heals the daughter of a woman who lives there. He goes on to sidon, then comes back into the region of the decapolis, where He continues His healing ministry. he travels, too, among the samaritans. Jesus' ministry was not just a ministry to the jewish people, but He reaches out to other ethnic groups and adherents of other religions who live in the same part of the world.

while we think of Jesus as a reformer of jewish religious practice, His ministry to the people of the decapolis, in what we now think of as lebanon, and to the samaritans demonstrates that Jesus' view was broader than that of a jewish reformer or revolutionary. the true religion that Jesus taught was broader than the religion advocated by the religious elite in roman-occupied galilee and judea. though rooted in judaism, the religion of Jesus was based on human need and the love of God for all people.

my prayer today is that we, like Jesus, reach out to those who are different from us, to those who practice other religions, who are unlike us culturally, and that our love is based on the needs of others. may we have a love that encompasses those of every ethnicity and religion, truly being a neighbor to all.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Man’s Face Fell. He Went Away Sad, Because He Had Great Wealth.

for the past several days, i've been reflecting on ways in which my research into the culture in which Jesus lived might influence my thinking about His life. one of the incidents in Jesus' life that i see in a somewhat different light is the encounter of Jesus with the wealthy man who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life (luke 10:17-25). the man was an observant jew who followed the commandments, and Jesus, who "looked at him and loved him (mark 10:21)," told him to sell his possessions and come follow Him. the man was disappointed in Jesus' answer and left filled with sadness. why did Jesus give that instruction to the man? even the disciples were perplexed.

i wonder if Jesus was commenting on the source of the man's wealth. most likely, that wealth was acquired through the oppression of others, either by the man himself or by members of his family. was Jesus trying to get the man to see that his wealth was an obstacle to his embracing the full teaching of Jesus, since that wealth had been gained through the hard labor of others, rather than through honest work that the man had done? was Jesus also teaching his disciples that there was no virtue in wealth, that the wealthy were no more favored by God than any others, that, in fact, because of how wealth in this culture was acquired, the wealthy were less likely to understand the true religion that Jesus was teaching?

we are engaged in a great battle of conscience in the united states now. those who value wealth and who see personal wealth as the realization of the "pursuit of happiness" which our declaration of independence enshrined as a national value want to continue and strengthen a system that allows the rich to become richer at the expense of the rest of the population. others believe that government, in its role of "promot[ing] the general welfare" as our constitution directs, should see that the poor are cared for, that health care is available to all, that the victims of natural disasters receive assistance, that all who want to work have the opportunity to do so, and that all citizens pay their fair share of the expense of helping to realize the "general welfare" mission of government. which point-of-view is consistent with the teachings of Jesus? are we becoming the "new rome?"

my prayer today is that we examine how our actions in our daily lives and our political lives affect others and that we will embrace the teachings of Jesus that save us from the hypocrisy of blaming the poor for their poverty and seeing wealth as the reward for living a virtuous life.