Bible Blog 1359

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news

ONE ISIS RECRUIT IS FROM SCOTLAND aberdeen

MATTHEW 18

21 “If you wish to be perfect,” answered Jesus, “go and sell your property, and give to the poor, and you will have wealth in heaven; then come and follow me.” 22 On hearing these words, the young man went away distressed, for he had great possessions. 23 At this, Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you that a rich person will find it hard to enter the kingdom of heaven! 24 I say again, it is easier for a camel to get through a needle’s eye than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven!” 25 On hearing this, the disciples exclaimed in great astonishment: “Who then can possibly be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them, and said: “With human beings this is impossible, but with God everything is possible.” Then Peter turned and said to Jesus: 27 “But we — we left everything, and followed you; what, then, will we have?”

28 “I tell you,” answered Jesus, “that at the new creation, ‘when the Son of Man takes his seat on his throne of glory,’ you who followed me will be seated on twelve thrones, as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 Everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or land, for my sake, will receive many times as much, and will ‘gain eternal life.’ 30 But many who are first now will then be last, and those who are last will be first.

The theological issue behind this passage is one that still divides believers today. There is a persistent strand of the Hebrew Bible which states that those who obey God’s commands will be blessed with health, wealth and happiness. Naturally enough this led to a conviction that those who enjoyed these goodies also enjoyed God’s favour. The rich were not only sucessful according to this theology, but also righteous. The book of Job in the Bible is an extended demolition of this theology, but anyone looking for texts to support it will find many.

camelThe disciples are stunned to hear Jesus saying that the rich have little chance of entering God’s new world. Jesus doesn’t try to justify his teaching he simply asserts it vividly. I think Jesus’ humour assumes that we’re all going to have to squeeze through that narrow gap into the kingdom, but it’ll be the camel’s humps (its wealth) that stop it. Again Jesus’ focuses on the possession of wealth as a danger to the soul. Being a “righteous” rich person hardly gets rid of your hump. In any case the idea that you can earn a place in the world to come is fundamentally wrong. That is given through God’s generosity to the poor, the “little ones” who have learned to walk humbly with each other and with their God.

In answer to Peter’s question about rewards, Jesus affirms that in the new creation there will be rewards for discipleship: the rich life of the community of faith (an open family); leadership of the “new Israel”; and the promise of life with God forever. These true riches are the rewards of the Jesus “jihad” (struggle against evil). The poor deluded men of Isis who have appeared online contrasting the glory of jihad with the easy life of Muslims in the UK mistakenly believe that true discipleship is killing people who don’t agree with them; and that God will reward their savagery if they die.

In response to that ideology, Christian believers should perhaps emphasise more than they have done, their own struggle aganst evil; their radical god on our sideseparation from the worship of wealth in their own societies; their self-discipline and readiness for self-sacrifice; their commitment to peaceful methods; the rewarding happiness of life in community; and their hope of eternal life. Among the forms of radicalism that concern our leaders perhaps the disarming radicalism of Jesus Christ would terrify them most, if it was practised by his followers.

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