Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Divine IRA

A young man called out to Jesus from the crowd and said, “Teacher, command the trustee of my father’s will to give me my share of the inheritance!” Jesus replied, “I am not a lawyer or a judge—why should I get involved?” Then Jesus told everyone, “Guard yourself from every form of trying to get more in the world. When you finally get everything you want and more, then you finally realize too late that stuff is not what life is about.”

“There was an entrepreneur who ran his own business. One year, he did exceptionally well, and found that his business had outgrown his little store. So he was contemplating what he would do with his surplus profit, so, talking to himself, he said, ‘I know! I will rent a larger store, hire a couple of employees and the business will practically run itself! Then, over a few years I will have a tidy nest egg stored up and I’ll say to myself, “You have found the good life. Now it’s time to relax, and enjoy your retirement.”’ In that instant, however, God’s voice spoke to the man, ‘You are such an idiot. This very night your life is to be taken from you. So who will enjoy what you are planning?’ This is what happens to a person who works for himself and his family, but who never gives to God by giving to the poor.”…

“Don’t be afraid to surrender your possessions, my dear students. You Father has happily determined that you are to have the whole kingdom of God—what do you need of useless trinkets? Go ahead and sell your stuff and give freely to those in need. Then you will have a savings that you can never use up, and is much safer than a bank, a mattress or your penny-pinching aunt. God will preserve it for you. But take this proposal seriously, and don’t blow it off—because what you use your money on is what you are devoting yourself to.

“There was a rich man who dressed in bright colors and fine cotton, living with his excellent entertainments daily. There was also a disabled poor man named Lazarus who begged outside his property daily, who was obviously sick. Lazarus dreamed about lying under the wealthy man’s table just to eat what fell on the floor, but all he got were kids coming by, yelling at him and throwing things at him. The poor man finally died, and angels carried him to Abraham in heaven. And the wealthy man also died and was given a proper burial, but ended up in hell where he was in agony. The wealthy man looked up and saw Abraham and Lazarus in heaven from a long distance off and he called out, “Father Abraham! Father Abraham! I am a religious man, so please do me a favor and ask Lazarus to come over to give me just the smallest amount of pain reliever because I am in terrible agony.” Abraham replied, “My son, do you remember in the time of your life? You had all the good, and Lazarus had all the evil in the world. Now in this life there is finally justice so Lazarus is comforted and you are in agony. Besides, the distance between us is so great that no one can go from one side to the other.” The rich man yelled out again, “Then could you please send Lazarus to my family? I have five brothers and I don’t want them to suffer here with me.” Abraham replied curtly, “Let them listen to the Bible.” The man said, “But they don’t, Father Abraham! But if someone comes to them from the dead to sternly warn them about giving to the poor, they will listen.” Abraham replied, “If those Scrooges won’t listen to the Scriptures, then they won’t listen to a ghost.”

The Homeboys
It is said that God doesn’t play favorites. And that’s kind of true—God gives everyone the same opportunity for His salvation through Jesus. But in a sense God does play favorites. You see God is the judge of the universe, and He is the one responsible to make sure justice is done throughout the world. And so God pays attention to those who can’t receive justice—more attention to them than to the ones who can get justice in the courthouse or through their money. So God pays attention to the poor and needy—they are His favorites. They get God’s ear. (Exodus 22:22-23; Psalm 37)

The Poor Don’t Have to Be With Us
Some say that Jesus said that we don’t always need to help the poor because they are always going to be with us. (Matthew 26:11) But that’s not exactly what Jesus was saying. Jesus was quoting a passage in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 15:1-8), which was talking about how poverty can be eliminated among God’s people. This is through giving to those brothers and sisters who are in need. If, the law proclaims, the needy are provided for, there doesn’t ever have to be poor. But, continues Moses, the poor WILL constantly be there, so there will always be people to give to. This last bit is what Jesus quoted. But this seems to be a contradiction—how can there be an idealistic society without poverty and yet poverty will always be with us?

Greed Kills
Simple. For poverty to be eliminated, we must first eliminate greed. Greed is not just wanting what someone else has, although that is included. Nor is it wanting more for yourself than you need. Rather greed is refusing to help another person in need when you have the means to do so (I John 3:17-18). This greed is not just selfishness, it is hatred of others who have need. Jesus warns us with very strong language to avoid greed at all cost, because greed kills. Greed kills the poor, because those in need don’t get what the justly deserve. And greed kills the greedy because God will track down the greedy and destroy them. For this reason, Paul says to the Christian community, “Do let greed even be mentioned about you.” (Ephesians 5:3).

Community of Privilege
Many of us are like the wealthy men in Jesus’ parables. We think to ourselves, “I earned the money or received it justly, so I should be able to do with it whatever I want.” This kind of thinking has created a culture of privilege, which assumes that we deserve a higher standard of living than others. Certainly some people in some of God’s work need to have greater resources than others. But no one “deserves” a higher lifestyle at the cost of other’s needs. God will punish anyone who sees the needs of others, has the means, but refuses to give because they need to maintain a “lifestyle”. In America, our lifestyle is killing us, impoverishing us because of our understanding that the “good life” is the life surrounded by stuff and entertainments. The “good life” is the life in God, which is a life focused on the Spirit, not on stuff.

Community of inclusion
Instead of a community of greed and stinginess, we are to have a community of inclusion, in which we treat the poor with as much generosity as we do our employees or our friends. Often the poor are excluded because they have different values than our culture or they dress or smell differently. We can’t trust them, so we don’t give to them, at least not like our friends, whom we understand and appreciate and give generously to. Jesus’ community, however, has always been a community of inclusion, and the poor are treated at least as well as people on any other socio-economic status. Perhaps the poor can budget or be “responsible” with money, but they are still treated fairly. In the early church, this community of inclusion and economic sharing is so thorough that the wealthy freely give of their most prized possessions, and there are no poor among them. No poor at all. Everyone has their needs met, in fulfillment of Deuteronomy 15.

Big House
The main question everyone asks when we speak about sacrificing is, “But how will I get this need met if I give everything away? How can I provide for myself and those with me?” Jesus answers that directly. He says that God will provide everything (Luke 12). If we prove faithful to God, then we can trust in God to provide. We need not fear or be anxious. God will grant us food, clothing, and healing from sickness and protection from our enemies (Psalm 42:1-5). Not only will God provide us with everything we need in this life, but He is overjoyed then to provide for us the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God was really made for those who sacrifice all they have for God’s work and for the poor. These are the ones that God wants in charge of His people, for all eternity. God grant us what we need now, and He also provides us a home, a utopia for us to live in for all eternity.

Go Bust or Bust
So what about those who don’t sacrifice for the poor? What about all the millions of believing Christians that don’t trust the poor enough to give, but just provide for themselves and their families?

Well, let’s just look at the words of Jesus to his disciples who don’t give: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” “It is very difficult for those with many possessions to enter into God’s kingdom. It is easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into God’s kingdom.”

Or the words of John to greedy believers: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer and no murderer has eternal life.”

Or James: “For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.” “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!”

These are all written about Christians, not unbelievers. So we need to take our possessions seriously. These hard words are not given to the wealthy who are generous. Because generosity is the salvation of those with a lot of stuff.

Our salvation is found in our sacrifice.

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