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.