Of all the texts in all of scripture, this is perhaps the most challenging to our current culture. Society (in the western world) is built around accumulation. Current Australian superannuation laws actually make it illegal for us to not do it!
A key question with accumulating is, ‘How much is enough?’ How can we know? What might tomorrow bring and how many more tomorrows might we get (or not get)? With Jesus, it is never about how much you have. It is always about what you do with what ever you might have.
The richest aspects of life are found in those places of shared trust. Moments that are fostered not by our individual power, but by our partnership with others. Underneath the obsession with accumulation is the fear that one day I may need something and there might be no one to offer it to me (so I best save it up now).
This fear engenders a poverty so profound no amount of money can alleviate it! How do you discern between a wise saving plan and fear regarding your future?
Jesus links the ideas of not obsessing about future security, and being vigilant for the return of the master. This intriguing conjoining of ideas is designed to help us focus on what is the most important thing to give our attention to with regard to the unknown future.
The outrageous injunction to sell our possessions and give to the poor offers no nuanced appreciation of our circumstances. Surely, by comparison to some, we are the poor!?
This way of thinking completely misses the point. To use what we have on ourselves has an immediate (relatively short-lived) personal enjoyment associated with it. In contrast, using what we have to bring life to others is a different kind of enjoyment. It is not only our own personal enjoyment. It is shared. It is not short-lived. It has the potential to change the world. It knows that the well-being of the whole is shaped by the well-being of every one.
A focus on the return of the Master enables us to hold to the most liberating perspective regarding the use of our resources. We remember they are not ours after all. We shall be accountable for how we have used everything.
If/when you think about the return of the Master, what are you anticipating?
For any who hold to the ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ view, these sayings in Luke 12 must be perplexing. Apparently, the Prince of Peace does not bring peace! It is not that the Christ is a champion of strife or war. It is simply that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection expose the systems of power and social cohesion in this world.
Those who believe in and follow Jesus have their eyes opened. They can no longer neatly fit in. Reading the signs of the times is something Jesus urged his followers to do. He did not want his disciples to be taken by surprise by the violence of the opposition they would face. Neither did he want them to reciprocate that violence.
In what ways do you encounter the tensions caused by Jesus’ uncovering of the world’s approach to power and social cohesion?
Jesus did not mind courting controversy when he had a purpose. It would not have been a significant burden for him to arrange to meet the bent-over woman the next day (or behind the barn) if avoiding the ire of the religious authorities was important to him.
Indeed, Jesus was deliberate (and according to this account) very effective at upsetting what had become the religious norms of the day. Yet, Jesus by no means strayed beyond the intent of his religious tradition. This is plain in that the people were happy to release their animals on the sabbath in order to look after them. How could it then be inappropriate to release this woman in order to care for her?!
It is easy for us to create absolute rules around our particular interests. In so doing, we generally contravene the broader intent of the tradition we claim to be upholding. It is in our nature to complicate and obfuscate as a means of holding power. The heart intent of our tradition is fairly straightforward and generally much clearer than we would like it to be.
When have you become aware that your interpretation of scripture on a particular issue has contravened the clear intent and purpose of scripture as a whole?
Rev. David Gore is Minister at MustardSeed Uniting Ultimo, Chaplain at UTS and Chaplain at Wesley College USyd.