When I was a kid in the Catholic church I remember that the priests and nuns took a vow of poverty. That is they put their obedience to God above monetary gain. That seemed like a noble thing to me. Of course I have come to realize that this vow of poverty did not mean that the Catholic clergy lived a lifestyle of the poor around them. They were provided a handsome house with a housekeeper/ cook to provide for them and when they retired there was a rather comfortable living arrangement for them to live out their lives.
A vow of poverty was just not the same as living in poverty. Even that being the case they are giving up much of the luxuries that are common in this world. I do admire them for that. I’m not sure if this vow is exclusively Catholic or if other denominations follow suit. I do know that the clergyman of the Lutheran church which I used to belong to was very well compensated for his efforts. His salary and benefits exceeded most in the congregation he served.
Maybe that is one of the problems that churches have when it comes to ministering to the poor. Many just have no idea what being poor is really about. A vow of poverty kind of makes sense for those who are teaching us that we are only visitors in the world and that our true home is in the next.
This is the true purpose of satire: to mock power. It is, truly, the language of the powerless. From the biblical prophets, to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, to Swift, to Twain, to Orwell to our beloved Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, satire works best when the targets are the powerful and elite—be they institutions or people.
Jesus’ sharpest comments were always directed toward the politically or religiously powerful. Always. Indeed, you could argue that Jesus’ entire life—from being born in a barn in the midst of a genocide, to hanging out with prostitutes and drunks, to healing on the Sabbath and touching the untouchables, to riding into Jerusalem on donkey rather than a war horse, to healing the ear of a Roman soldier after it had been cut off by Jesus’ allies—was a stinging indictment of religious and political power.
Source: Christians and Humor: Thoughts on Making It Work.
The above quote is from a post on Rachel Held Evans blog. I am a regular reader. I have never seen such a clear picture of Jesus as a satirist. I announce it frequently on my other blog over at RJsCorner that I am a huge fan of Will Rogers so am kind of disappointed that Rachel didn’t mention his name in her list. 🙂
As Rachel says Jesus’ sharpest comments were always directed toward the politically and religiously powerful. He was by his very nature the ultimate spokesman for the marginal, down-trodden and on the edges of our society. He spoke for those who had not voice of their own. So, shouldn’t we expect Jesus’ church to carry on that task? To me the answer is a very emphatic “YES”, but sadly that just doesn’t seem to be the case.
It greatly saddens me to see the radical right political agenda so often espoused by many evangelical fundamentalists is being perceived to be the voice of the church. It total dumbfounds me how that came to be! Why were so many in this group so adamantly against providing healthcare to those who cannot afford it on their own? Why are so many in this group so enthusiastic toward the Ryan/Republican budget that balances the budget on the backs of the poor instead of taking it out of our bloated war-machine budgets?
I have a very strong belief that if Jesus were to return to us today he would have even stronger comments directed towards the politically and religiously powerful of today. Why aren’t they carrying the mantel for those on the margins of our society?
Another thing the church of today seems to almost totally lack is a sense of humor. I think Jesus was a pretty fun-loving guy who could give and take a joke. He means for us to joyfully live out our lives as he taught us. He would be disappointed that his church is more in the mode of hunkering down against the big bad world than engaging it full-on as he did. Even if it does poke fun at him once in a while.
The gospel of Luke Chapter 6 is the most important chapter in the Bible for me. Of course it includes the Beatitudes which are primary in teaching us how to live our lives but they include much more than that. I want to concentrate on the first beatitude for this post.
Luke 6:20 Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God..”
I take these words more literally than some. I believe that those who are treated poorly in this world will have a special place in the next. Conversely those who have much will be judged by how they use their affluence to further God’s kingdom. This thought also aligns with Jesus’ word about those who are first will be last and for those who much is given much will be expected. I think Jesus was talking about the same thing in all these examples.
Like many places in the Bible where there are differing accounts for the same circumstances. Some differences are slight and some are rather dramatic. The writer of Luke deemed his account as the Sermon on the Plan while there is another account in Matthew that author called the Sermon on the Mount. I suspect that both of these accounts were from the same event and just recorded differently by the two authors.
Over the centuries even slight differences in biblical accounts have spurned some pretty significant differences in interpretation. The author of Matthew added two words after the word “poor”; he added “in spirit”. This opened the door to a completely different meaning than what Luke proclaimed. With the words “in spirit” some now say that everyone is included in this and all the other beatitudes as all of us humans are “poor in spirit”. By doing this they are taking away any special or specific meaning the beatitudes.
One thing to remember about all of this is that we don’t really know with any certainty who any of the four authors of the Gospels were. During those times many would write their accounts “in memory of” as we would say today. The accounts were often written from verbally passed down stories of the times but in memory of a particular founding Christian. An example of that this the Book of Judas. Obviously this book, which was not included in the bible and was not rediscovered until recently, was not written by Judas himself but in his name. Realizing that the vast majority of the early Christians were illiterate this understanding should not be surprising to any of us.
There have been literally thousands of theologians over the past twenty centuries that have dissected almost all of Jesus’ words to support their version of Christianity. We have to remember that everyone has an agenda in one form or another when it comes to the biblical interpretation.
Luke 6 covers a wide spectrum of Jesus’ message to us today. I will be interlacing those messages along with additional info about the emergent church movement in future posts.
In recent days I have been getting frustrated by the progress I have made into the parallel studies of the Roman empire and the Christian church. It is not that I am not learning things it is just that it is taking longer than I originally anticipated. My wife claims that I always underestimate these sort of things and maybe I do 🙂 I certainly like to blog on Red Letter Living as it keeps me centered on what is important in life. Having to put off posting here because I am not ready to do it intelligently is frustrating to me.
So I have decided to put this study on the back burner for now. I am not putting the study of the study off but only the blogging about it. When I think I have enough background knowledge on the subject then I will start blogging about it. Until then I have decided to do some blogging about what Jesus says about our personal and corporate responsibilities toward the poor. This topic has been on my mind lately due to some interactions over at my other blog at RJ’s Corner. I have been in a some discussions with some Christians who give the usual response about Jesus saying we will always have the poor so there is nothing we can do about it. Of course to me that is very much taking his words out of context. I will expand on those thoughts in this new study and back it up with red letters.
So, come back soon for a new direction on this blog. They say that religion and politics don’t mix but when some Christians vote based on a warped sense of Jesus’ words that does harm to Christianity as a whole. Let’s investigate just what Jesus said in quite a bit of detail about this issue. I’m sure there is nothing I could say here that will influence the way some people vote in the coming election but if I can just nudge them a little maybe their attitudes will change for a future one.