Thursday, September 1, 2016
He Didn't Say Money
On Sunday, we'll hear Jesus say, "So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." If you don't squirm in your seat when you hear it, you're likely either a member of a religious community who has already taken a vow of poverty or you've fallen asleep.
But, before you freak out (there will be time for that later), stop and consider this: Jesus never said anything about money.
The opening line of the gospel lesson (Luke 14:25-33) is equally disconcerting: "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple." But somehow it's easier for me to assume Jesus was speaking hyperbolically when he says that I'm supposed to hate my family than it is to brush aside his call to give up all of my possessions? Why is that? Is it because I assume Jesus would never ask us to forsake our family but I somehow suspect he'd ask us to become poor? Why would he mean one and not the other?
I'm finding a strange sort of comfort in taking Jesus literally, but, to do that, I need to remember not to put words into his mouth. The word translated "possessions" is a strange sort of word. It's a participle form of the verb that means "to make a beginning" or "to come forth" or "to be at hand." It's the last of those that has the link to possessions. In some sense, however, Jesus is saying, "None of you can be my disciple if you do not give up all of your being-at-handness." Think about that. It's not just about possessions--it's about access.
It's not fair to say that Jesus is asking us to give up the "creature comforts" of life because it's more than merely yielding our Yeti tumblers and Roomba vaccuums, but there is a sense of yielding of the availability of what we have that is behind this. Yes, we are told to forsake the things we own, but it's also more than that. It means that we are supposed to give up a life in which we can reach into our knapsack and pull out whatever it is that we need for the journey. It's an abandonment of resources more generally. This isn't simply about poverty. It's about a posture.
Following Jesus doesn't always mean being poor, but it does always mean giving up anything and everything that distracts us from the kingdom. The ease of life that we take for granted--the support network of family, the job that doesn't fire us when we're sick, the church that lets us show up when it's convenient for us--those things must go away or at least our reliance on them must.
Sometimes we need to spend a weekend in the wilderness with nothing other than the clothes on our back. Will we make it? Can we survive? What will it teach us? You can't follow Jesus if you're checking your e-mail on your smartphone during your child's soccer game. You can't be a disciple of Jesus if you're trust is in the nest egg you've built up. Yes, in truth that means we need to take a vow of poverty. No, I haven't figured that one out yet. But I'm listening. And I'm listening more to Jesus telling me to strip everything down and turn only to him. Money is a part of that, but it's not the whole thing. It's even more challenging than that. Jesus is asking me to give up a life of ownership. I no longer even get to own my own life.