May 25, 2012

Luke 18.18-30

And a ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? Only God is good.

"You know the commandments: 'Do not  commit adultery. Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother."

And he said, "All these I have observed from my youth."

And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have, and distribute to the poor; and you will have treasure in Heaven. And come, follow me!"

But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich.

Jesus, looking at him, said, "How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. For it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Those who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?"

But he said, "What is impossible with men is possible with God."

And Peter said, "Lord, we have left our homes and followed you."

And he said to them, "Truly I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life."


At 9:50 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

Both Wright and Herzog say much the same about this one.

"Good teacher" is probably not as friendly as it sounds to us; in First Century Israel it's a likely setup for a challenge, preparing Jesus to anticipate a 'but' in a sentence or two. Hence his disclaimer.

Wright: "Since Jesus quoted seven out of the ten commandments, it is fair to assume that the challenges he put to the young man took the place of two that he did not quote."

I count five here; the story varies in different gospels. Herzog agrees that the omissions are significant.

The first commandment is about having no other gods before YHWH. Jesus has already said, no doubt for more than one audience, that one can't serve both God and mammon, aka unrighteous wealth. Regardless of modern ideas affirming/denying that wealth might be gained by socially-beneficial means, in an agrarian society the only significant form of wealth is land, and one gains it at the expense of others. Herzog considers that Jesus' odd demand, that the young man sell all he has and redistribute it, may well be a demand for restitution, for the way this wealth was accumulated.

Because the rich were not lending to their poor neighbors, Hillel had instituted the prozbul-- "an oath taken by a debtor vowing that he would repay the loan whenever the lender stipulated... [sabbatical year or not]." The effect, says Herzog, "was to annul the Torah provision for cancellation of debt. Just as sabbath provided a physical respite from the endless toil of life, so the sabbatical provided debt relief from the endless cycle of poverty and misery. But it appears that both were undermined and eventually abrogated by the ruling class"-- ie, People whose ancestral plots had been taken by rapacious lenders did not have the leisure to observe Sabbaths, any more than they could observe all the "minutia" of Torah observance that Jesus accused the Pharisees of having emphasized at the expense of justice and mercy.

And besides this...

At 11:47 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

Wright: "Some Jews assumed, perhaps on the basis of a facile reading of Deuteronomy and certain psalms, that wealth was a sign of YHWH's favor. It signaled, apparently, that one was already in receipt of certain covenant blessings. This explains the disciples' great surprise... at being told that rich people would have difficulty inheriting the kingdom. They assumed the rich were going to be part of the kingdom; the question for them was, who else?"

So, is this really only an ancient Jewish notion? [Is that a rhetorical question?]

Okay, are we going to have to give up everything we have? What if we don't have much, but still more than the people we see on the street, (probably) every day?

I really don't think so; it's really the wrong kind of question. [But do remember: "Money is addictive, and causes brain damage." You may have a bigger habit than you know!]

One particular young man is told to sell off his possessions, and distribute them to the poor. After that, he's going to be 'just like everyone else.' We already are. We shouldn't have to make a big deal about it, if we aren't hogging vast resources. It's easier to keep up with your email if you aren't waiting to use a library computer; easier to eat if you don't have people cutting ahead of you in food lines; easier to sleep if you have some place to lay your head. And don't have to lug everything with you, with cops telling you to move on whenever you stop. Or go to the emergency room for a cough that won't go away because the stress and the malnutrition have run you down too much.

I've met a couple people who took on that kind of life as a spiritual exercise. I don't think it's going to set a trend, nor that this is what God expects of people.

I am having a hard time with this, though, because collectively we are hogging vast resources, using them up for the benefit of just-about nobody...

What makes it a flawed question-- is the assumption that there ought to be some standard answer. "See, it says right here in chapter 18:18..."

When I see a beggar on the street, my first thought is usually whether I can get past without having to give him anything... After that, handing over the money & getting on with my important getting-on... Better if I could step out of my habitual role about then, ask God what I'm called to do this time, with this person. (?)


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