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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Camel through the Eye of A Needle

The liturgy for this week in my tradition includes the Gospel of Mark, the 10th chapter, starting with the 17th verse. It's about a rich young man who follows all the laws, but Jesus said, "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." The young man was NOT happy.

Then Jesus said, at verse 25, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." Similar scripture can be found in Matthew 19:24 and Luke 18:25.

A couple thoughts on this: There are lots of folks who seem to think that what is meant by the eye of the needle is a small gate or a rope, thus difficult but not impossible to achieve. I don't buy it and this site explains it well as any.

Also, it's clear that most of the poorest Westerners are much better off than the poor in developing countries. Does this lead some in the United States, e.g., to decide that the poor in their own country are not worthy of compassion? When I type the word "underserved" in Blogger and in other word processing formats, the spell check wanted to know if I really meant "undeserved".

Mostly, though, I was thinking of last week's PARADE magazine survey of How Spiritual Are We?, we being Americans. In the print version, the visual representatives of faith leadership were were Rick Warren and Joel Osteen. Rick Warren is problematic for all sorts of reasons, including his apparent homophobia.

But I want to concentrate on Joel Osteen, who is engaged in what's commonly referred to as the "prosperity gospel." Essentially, if you are positive, then God is going to give you all of the goodies of this world. To my ears, it's just a more polished version of the late Rev. Ike, who would say, "Why have that pie in the sky, when you can have it NOW, with ice cream on the top." I find myself agreeing uncomfortably with some evangelicals (as the term is commonly understood) when I suggest that Osteen's teachings are heretical to Biblical teachings. I watched him two years ago on 60 Minutes, and I'm more inclined to believe so after the program than I did before it, even though the interview was designed to answer his critics.

"Love of money is the root of all evil", the Bible says. Even when preached by a reputed man of God.



Anthony said...

I think the last quote actually says, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." If I was to identify the root of all evil, I would probably go with pride, which disorders all our loves, prompts us to treat means as ends and ends as means, and often refuses the kind of trust and faith that is necessary for a healthy human life.

Of course, your post is actually about Jesus' challenging words to the rich young ruler. We also covered that verse in our liturgy this week (we very likely have a common lectionary), and what struck me was that Jesus' challenge to that man was very specific to that man. Keep in mind that I don't say this to get all the rest of us off the hook regarding Jesus' radical call to love and obedience. However, it is commonly known that Jesus had rich people who were his disciples, and he did not lay the same requirement upon them. So, it could be that Jesus saw that this man was particularly ensnared by his wealth and he therefore needed to sharply sever himself from his wealth in order to be free to follow. And yet again, this didn't quite get the whole picture for me, or rather the emphasis was wrong.

What I saw was that God does not have a general path of obedience for humanity. Instead, God has a very specific path of obedience for each one of us, a path as unique as our fingerprint, and this young man's path required that kind of renunciation. The hitch is, if that man had faith God's goodness, perhaps he would have seen the great blessing connected to that path that would have been his both now and in the age to come.

This is where I put us all back on the hook. The unique path that God calls each of us to will require each of us to make some kind of renunciation that will subjectively be no less heavy than the young man must have felt at Jesus' requirement. And so the question is, will we have the faith to let go of what we can not ultimately keep to receive a unique blessing that will exceed all that we have given or renounced.

Roger Owen Green said...

Anthony- There are SO many translations of the Bible that what the verse says is an open question. the King James says at 1 Tim 6:10, "For the love of money is the root of all evil." But the NIV says: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil."

Oh, I think we're all on the hook. I just think that if we think the story's ONLY about THAT guy, and not about us - and the thing WE may cherish might be something else - then we've missed the point. We're pretty much in agreement.

I absolutely agree that Jesus' chastisement was specific to this guy. But Osteen's "theology" is really thin on fundamentals, and I think his gig, in particular, is more about people feeling good about themselves and less about the challenge of the Gospel.

Anthony said...

Roger - I agree with you about the multiplicity of translations, and I am no position to comment on what that passage says in the original Greek. However, it seems odd and incongruous to my experience to root all evil back to the love of money. For example, I think lust seeks to obtain the object of its desire irregardless of financial payoff, and often it is willing to do so at financial expense.

Anyways, regarding Osteen and his theology, I am not sure what to say.
I saw parts of an interview with Larry King for which Mr Osteen received a lot of flack from Christian conservatives for not being explicit enough about the uniqueness of Christ in the salvation of humanity. This criticism bugged me, not because I don't think Christ is unique, but because I don't think being irenic or diplomatic about sensitive issues is necessarily a bad thing. That said, it does seem to me that Mr. Osteen is the embodiment of American bourgeoisie Xianity.