With all the confusing stuff in our present scene about religion, definitions of the term ‘evangelical,’ scandals in the church, etc. … it might be a good time to stop and take a look at the economic dimensions that are of the very essence of Christian discipleship. After all, the only competitor to God that Jesus names is mammon, i.e., “You cannot serve God and mammon.” This is not a minor factor in the gospel accounts. Jesus, after all, did not go around preaching theological treatises, he called men and women to a whole new understanding of life. What he did was to declare unequivocally that in himself, God’s Age-to-Come, God’s New Creation, God’s eternal kingdom, … has invaded our present age, i.e., has become present in himself. What did was to teach that those who would be his disciples, his followers, would be known, not by their words, but more, by their visible behavior. Then, when you begin to explore what that visible behavior looked like, a major component is that it is seen in one’s faithfulness to a new understanding of the place and use of possessions, and of one’s freedom from the domination of one’s life by money/mammon. Christ’s teachings on New Creation behavior are seen in his Sermon on the Mount / Sermon on the Plain: “Woe to you rich. Blessed are you poor.”

Those outside of the community of faith are hardly impressed by ‘religious talk’ but they cannot escape the reality of lives that have a different center, a different authority, a different creative source, and a different guiding line. … And this is seen in the freedom from self-interested captivity to wealth and possessions. It is seen in unselfish, generous, sensitivity to human need, and so much more. The Latin American Christian community made prominent the term orthopraxis, i.e., the doing, or living out in flesh and blood, the truth in daily life.

Such discipleship, however, requires that we be free from the captivity to possessions(. Jesus was unequivocal in saying that if anyone would come after him, he/she must forsake all that he/she has so that obedience to Christ would be primary. This becomes so difficult to even conceive in our consumer culture. When the rich young man came to ask Jesus what he must do to become his disciple, Jesus knowing that the young man’s wealth would always be his ultimate trust, required of him that he sell all that he had, then come—which exposed the young man’s ultimate trust. (Imagine saying that to, say, Jeff Bezos and you begin to get the picture.)

It is probably exhibited most colorfully in Jesus encounter with Zacchaeus, who had amassed a fortune by all kinds of deceptive means in his role as tax-collector. When Jesus, humorously called the short Zacchaeus to come down out of the tree, and invited himself into Zacchaeus’ house, there occurred a long conversation. What did they talk about? What transpired? Whatever it was, when they emerged from the house, Jesus announced that salvation had come to the house of Zacchaeus. What Zacchaeus announced, however, was that his encounter with Jesus had radically changed his economic practice, that he would restore all that he had defrauded four-fold, and that he would give half of his possession to the poor. That’s orthopraxis!

Mammon, the power of greed and wealth, so control our lives, our politics, our culture that it appears almost unsolvable. The very rich get tax breaks, while the helpless poor struggle to survive and cope with the basic demands of health, education, and earning a living wage.

Have I made my point? It would almost seem that Jesus would be more fulfilled in being with the protestors in the ‘Occupy Wall Street” movement, … than he would be in attending the Presidential Prayer Breakfast (which has become a prestige event the significance of which is dubious). Who are the rich? Probably most of us (who read these blogs). Jesus: “Truly I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” However, complex this issue is, we dare not ignore the vast hold that mammon exercises on all of us.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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