Thursday, September 26, 2013

September 29, Proper 21, Contradictions 5: Poverty and Wealth

Cartoon from the Brooklyn Paper, November 2007

Amos 6:1a, 4-7, Psalm 146, 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31

I am very proud of our congregation’s work for the relief of homeless men. It was only six years ago that I first started working with the homeless. Not that I wanted to; it’s not my specialty, but there they were, sleeping on the church’s stoop and begging out front. At that time the Bloomberg administration was initiating an optimistic vision to really address homelessness, and the Department of Homeless Services regarded me as their local agent. I was able to get housing for all of our guys, and for nine more guys besides.

Suddenly the door slammed shut. I couldn’t get housing for anyone. The policies had changed. The men now had to prove that they were homeless, and they had to prove it by being sighted, sleeping out on the sidewalk, by an observer driving around the city, on any given night over a period of several months. The guys wouldn’t do it, they know it’s not safe to sleep out there, so they never got sighted.

We figured out why the policies had changed. The new priority was simply to get the homeless off the streets and out of sight of the tourists and visitors. Out of sight, out of mind. That earlier optimism had crashed against the realities. The new vision failed because it never addressed the root cause of homelessness, which, in the aggregate, is very simple, and that is the cost of housing. When real estate goes up, when rents go up, then homelessness goes up. It is not a contradiction that an increase in wealth brings with it an increase in poverty. What the realities do contradict is the “trickle down effect,” except for the “down” part.

The “trickle down effect” is what the rich guy in the parable was practicing, quite literally. The crumbs would trickle down onto the floor, and the servants would sweep them out the door, where the beggar could pick at them. Well, at least the beggar could lie there at the gate. Here in New York, he’d never make it into the lobby of your building, and if he dared to camp out under your stoop he could be arrested for trespassing.

But the really nasty thing was the licking of the dogs, which, in the culture of Jesus’ day, was shameful and humiliating. Dehumanizing. The beggar was dehumanized, so the rich guy owed him nothing. He could just step around him when he left the house and step over him when he came back. There’s a contradiction: proximity with invisibility. Not out of sight, out of mind, but in sight and yet out of mind. Up close and impersonal. We practice it in this city every day. We feel like we have to, it’s nothing personal, there are just too many people, but in the aggregate it’s dehumanizing.

Both of them die, they’re both in Hades, Lazarus in the Paradise part and the rich guy in the Gehenna part, burning up. He sees the beggar there with Abraham, but still does not respect him. “Father Abraham, tell him to do this, tell him to do that.” No respect. Father Abraham said that there was a great chasm fixed between them, so there was no crossing from one side to the other, but there was a chasm inside the soul of the rich guy, a portable chasm he carried around inside him, by which he could remove the beggar from his life. The danger is there for all of us, to have fixed such a chasm inside ourselves, and portable, to keep us untouched by the great need of the world outside our door. Proximity with isolation. I do it too. How else can you function in this city?

It is costly to have this chasm inside ourselves. It takes energy to maintain it. We get defensive, and defensive even to ourselves. You hear it when the rich guy complains to Abraham. He acts like he didn’t know. He acts like he wasn’t told, that it was unfair, that it’s not his fault because it was not made clear to him. But it was made clear to him. He didn’t want to hear it. He didn’t want to pay the cost of the enjoyment of his wealth so he ended up paying the cost of himself.

This parable has several layers of meaning. One of its meanings is the judgment on Israel for not believing in the Lord Jesus when he came back from the dead. I spoke about that three years ago. Today I will stay with the economic meaning, and that’s to continue our themes from last Sunday. My message today is not for America, or for the American economy, or the political economy of New York City, although our scripture lessons apply to all of that, but I am not sufficiently expert to make those applications. My applications are for the church, to us, to you specifically as Christians.

First, consider this contradiction to conventional wisdom: that poverty is actually the cost of wealth. That our wealth is costly to the poor. I suppose in some principle of theoretical economics you could have increasing wealth without increasing poverty, but what about actual reality, when we have to factor in the practical truth of human sin and the aggregates of sin, and the awful truth that the more successful we are, the more accomplished is our sin. Let us consider this, let us not walk around it nor step over it. Can anyone show us, either from scripture or from human experience, that our wealth is not costly to the poor, somewhere, whether far away or proximate, or that it is not so that as our own wealth increases, so does poverty for someone else?

We do know this for sure, the wealth is costly to us who are wealthy. I’m talking now about the social cost, and the spiritual cost, and the moral cost. Again, in theoretical principle wealth should be morally neutral, but the clear witness of all three of our lessons today is that in actual reality it’s not. As I said last week, your wealth, your ordinary wealth, is your constant moral problem, no matter how much or little of it you have. It offers you enjoyment and security and it demands your attention and your service and it becomes an idol. It seduces you and it becomes a jealous lover. So that your love of your money is the root of so much evil in your life. Evil to yourself, evil to others like yourself, and evil to the poor. This message is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable to be preaching it, and I hope Jesus talks about something else next week, but there it is.

This week our scripture lessons do not contradict each other. What they contradict is us, and any exemptions we might claim because of our basic decency or even our indebtedness. Let it contradict you, don’t try to negotiate or defend yourself. Say to yourself, “Okay, even if I don’t see it I will admit it, to God and to others and most important to myself.” From the Reformed Church point of view, repentance is less about self-examination than simply believing what God says about us. So that this repentance is a step towards freedom. The second step is your giving in to eminent domain of the Lord Jesus. Your wealth is not your own, neither to possess as you see fit nor even to enjoy as you see fit. The government should treat it so, but you should not within your soul.

And the third step in your freedom is to share your wealth. Your wealth is loaned to you by God for you to share. The epistle agrees with what Jesus advised last week. Not that you have to become poor yourself. But that the increase of your wealth means an increase in your obligations for loving your neighbor as yourself. In the sharing of your wealth you loosen its grip on you and lessen its hold on you. The name Lazarus means “God helps.” Do you see how God was helping the rich guy all along, by giving him such a close by neighbor whom he could love as himself?

The tragedy of the rich guy was a tragedy of unawareness. He was unaware that he could love the beggar, and that loving the beggar would add more richness to his life, a richness greater than in the sauces on his table. What turns this tragedy into comedy is the laughter of love, and the effort to love, the effort which brings awareness, and that means freedom. So, if you want to know what to do with your wealth, think in terms of love. You love yourself. How do you spend your wealth on yourself? So then love your neighbor as yourself.

Do it freedom, do it in creativity, use your wealth as currency for love. You might have to confess that this is what God has done for you. I mean that if you have any wealth at all, you really don’t deserve it any more than some other person on this planet who did not enjoy your circumstances. It is a mystery what you should have it, so finally you have to chalk it up to the mystery of God’s love for you. Lazarus means God helps you. God helps you because God loves you.

Copyright © 2013, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

September 22, Proper 20; Contradictions 4: The Crooked Commended

Amos 8:4-7, Psalm 113, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13

This gospel lesson is considered the most confusing speech that Our Lord Jesus ever made. But we can make sense of it, as long as we think in terms of contradictions. The lesson is in two parts, and I think they’re intentionally contradictory.

The first part is a parable, verses 1 to 8. The parable is comic, it’s meant to be a little funny. It’s in the form of a fable, like Aesop’s fables, with a wily fox, or like Uncle Remus, with Bre’r Rabbit, who outwits his enemies, or even like Bugs Bunny, who gets away with everything.

So there’s this wealthy man, the master, and he’s a decent guy. He owns an estate, with tenant farmers on it, like sharecroppers, who pay their rent in kind. He employs a manager to run the place. He hears complaints that his manager is squandering his goods, so he calls him in. “What’s this I hear about you? Hand over your records. You’re done.” Uh oh.

The parable switches to the manager. He doesn’t bother to defend himself, he doesn’t waste his breath. And at least he wasn’t thrown in jail, which was decent of his boss. “But now what am I gonna do?” (Think cartoon here.) “I could dig. Nah. I could beg. Nah.” Light bulb comes on. “I got it. He still wants the accounts, and they don’t know I’m fired yet. If I work fast I can put them in my debt.”

He goes to the tenants. “How much do you owe the master? 800 gallons of olive oil? That’s a lot of olive oil! (It’s a fable, folks.) Quick, rewrite your contract and reduce it by half.” No problem. “And you, how much? 1000 bushels of wheat? That’s an awful lot of wheat you owe. Reduce it by 20%.”

It’s like when the Fed reduces interest rates. You go change your mortgage quick to get that rate. My bank didn’t like it so much when we refinanced our apartment, because of how much less interest they would collect from us, and they kept adding new paperwork to hold us off, but they finally yielded and we refinanced. And so the master, when the manager’s scheme comes out, is not going to force his tenant farmers to pay their former rate. He’s already shown he’s not that kind of guy. He’ll be as decent to his tenants as he was decent to the manager.

Which is what the manager was counting on. That’s where he was shrewd. He calculated on the decency of the master. He did not bother to excuse himself or defend himself. He counted on the mercy of the master, that the master would never be untrue to himself, no matter how crooked the manager was. That’s the shrewdness that’s commendable.

So when it comes to God, you can count on God to be true to God’s self, and God is merciful, and the quality of God’s mercy is not strained, no matter how often or how much you need it. So just don’t bother to be self-righteous, don’t stand on your rights or reputation, don’t waste your breath on your explanations and excuses. No matter how good or bad you are, no matter how much you have gained or how much you owe, all you really have to stand on, all you can resort to is God’s mercy. And you can also thank the Lord Jesus for being that wily rabbit, that crafty manager who comes to you and who cancels your rightful debts to God for you. That’s the good news.

The second part of our lesson is the bad news. It’s as critical as the first part is comical. The second part is a poem. It’s hard to recognize as such, because the form of the poem is not typical in Western literature. The form is more like Arabic poetry, or like the verses of the prophets of the Old Testament.

I will skip the literary analysis, but only say that the poem develops like a wave upon the beach. It gathers, it rises, it crests, and then crashes and spreads and recedes. Its climax is in the middle, at verse 11. Its climax is the challenge, “If you then have not been faithful with unrighteous wealth, who will entrust you with the true?” The true? The true what? True wealth? Or the Truth? Either, or both. It’s ambiguous and suggestive. What is of real value? In the world? In your own life? What are you really worth? What is your true value, what do you value?

What does the Lord Jesus mean when he says “unrighteous wealth”? He means to be allusive and imprecise. This is poetic language play. His term for “wealth” is the Aramaic word mammon. You may have heard this word before: “You can’t serve God and mammon.” Mammon means ordinary wealth, ordinary capital, your savings, your 401k, your equity in your home, all that you have to report when you apply for a mortgage or a loan. All of you have mammon, more or less.

Why is it unrighteous? In principle, wealth itself is morally neutral. It can be good, as with the landed property which God had guaranteed in the Torah to every Israelite. It is your security, and the birthright of your children. But the Lord is saying that it’s really never neutral and always compromised and crooked, no matter how respectable you are. It always tempts you and it always pulls on you, no matter how upright you are. It is your constant moral problem. Do not pretend to yourself that your small amount of wealth is righteous, or deserving, or clean. You could have an ethical investment policy, you could divest, you could boycott, you could even occupy, but you cannot escape the corruption of what you value and hold dear. You’re all complicit, not one of you is innocent, no one is exempt.  No excuses. Don’t waste your breath.

The Lord Jesus has assaulted your integrity. Don’t defend yourself. He has impugned your reputation. Don’t defend it. Accept it. Plead his mercy. Fly to his mercy. He gives you the parable to show you how to survive the wave of his judgment crashing down on you. He shows you your place of refuge for when he comes to assault you. He has given you the place of grace in which we stand.

Grace and forgiveness, righteousness and morality. Mercy and justice. These can be contradictory. What is the purpose of being a Christian? What are we baptized for? Is it not to become a better person, more righteous, more ethical, a better example of humanity? Or is it to keep coming back for mercy, coming back again and again as diggers and beggars who have nothing to stand on but God’s mercy? Which is it? It is both. God calls you to be ethical. Yet all you have to stand on is God’s mercy. Being a Christian is to work them both, to learn the interplay, to work the balance.

Today we will baptize Clyde Li Williams. He knows how to walk, he has learned to balance in his body the opposing forces of tension and compression and of gravity and thrust. He’s learning to balance his food on a fork. Before you know it, his parents will be teaching him how to balance on a bicycle. And they will also teach him the balance of mercy and morality. The God he belongs to expects him to be moral. The older he gets, the more that will include. The more he comes to value the more pressing it will be. His parents will teach him how to take care of his things, to put his toys away, to clean up after himself, to respect the rights of others, to only take his share, but also how to have a share, to build up capital in the world, to be thrifty but also generous, a model citizen. I am not joking. And they will also teach him how much he needs mercy. How much in need of it he is, with no excuses, and how endlessly he can find it in the God he belongs to.

All of us are complicit. All of us enjoy the benefits of a global economy that is increasing the wealth of the wealthy and the poverty of the poor, exhausting our resources, and risking our very planet. What do we do? Don’t waste time defending it or denying it. Deal with it from out of mercy. Which means don’t waste time feeling guilty either. Do what you gotta do. The trick is in that strange advice which is the bridge from the parable to the poem: “Make friends for yourselves with your crooked wealth, etc.”

Okay, you’ve got it, so now be generous. Share it as if you believe that you don’t really have the right to it. The Rev. James Forbes famously said that, “Nobody gets into heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.” You have some wealth? Okay. Maintain it but don’t fool yourself. You’re always more in bondage to it than you think, so be more generous with it than makes sense. This is not for guilt. It’s for joy. It’s for welcome. It’s for celebration. Your resort is not in anything you can do, your first and last resort is in the mercy of the God whom you belong to, who gently laughs at your pretensions, and who loves you like you’re a little child.

Copyright © 2013 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

September 15, Proper 19, Contradictions 3: If God Finds Us, How Did God Lose Us?

Exodus 32:7-14, Psalm 51:1-11, 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10

Jesus poses these two parables as questions. “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep,” and then, “What woman, having ten silver coins.” To the second one the answer is obvious: “Any woman would.” But to the first one the answer is the opposite: “No one would.” No one would stupidly risk the ninety-nine for the sake of the one. Realistic management simply writes off that last sheep. A one percent loss is not so bad, and it’s way less than standard depreciation.

The answers are contradictory, so you have to work the parable back and forth. You use the second answer to reverse the first answer, as in, “Any woman would, who having a hundred sheep,” and you feel like the parable is playing with you, and then it finally hits you that Jesus is saying, “I’m with the woman, I  would too.” This Messiah would. This Messiah would because he thinks God would. Every last, lost person is of inestimable worth to God, the most despicable, the least acceptable, the most unfit. To bring in such a one is what God rejoices in.

Is it really true? Does God come after you like this? Will God come hunting high and low to find you? You are one of seven billion people, and our planet is one speck in the galaxy, and our galaxy is one of billions in the universe, and is God so aware of you? Does God get that specific? Does God get that personal? Do you, your little self, make God happy?

Would you like it to be true? Would you like God to notice when you’re missing? Would you like God to come and find you? Do you want God to be so personal? Or should God be more objective? More the like spiritual energy of the universe? Less sentimental, more philosophical?

How can it be true? If God is God, then how can God ever lose us in the first place? If God is God, then God already knows where the coin is, and God already knows where every last sheep is. These parables are contradictory to the doctrine of God’s omniscience and omnipotence.

There is another contradiction underneath. Let me draw it out. Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. And we saw two weeks ago that he also eats with scribes and Pharisees. Jesus does not discriminate, he treats everyone the same, saint or sinner, pious or polluted. He’s not against your being a good person, it’s good that you’re good, but he’s going to treat you the same as he treats a bum. He believes that every single last person, irrespective of performance, has the very same value to God. And that value would be immeasurable, infinite.

How can that be, really, that any one person should have infinite value to God. How can this balding primate weighing 93 kilograms have more relative value than, say, the planet Jupiter? Maybe that made sense 500 years ago, when we thought the planet earth was the physical center of a very much smaller universe, but not with what we know about the universe today.

It might help to remark that “infinite” does not necessarily mean “vast”. That’s a category mistake. The interior of an atom is also infinite. Some scientists suggest that the size of the human body is about half-way between the size of an atom and the size of the universe. It might help to remember that our categories of space and time do not apply to God, God can enter space and time but is outside them, so God is neither conditioned nor limited by the laws of time and space in which we live, so at least it’s conceivable that God is so aware of you, that God finds you that important, and that God is so personally invested in you.

But what about the contradiction of our life experience. Doesn’t God abandon some people anyway? All the suffering millions we pray for every week, the starving children and their dying mothers? Isn’t it our experience that God allows some people to get lost and stay lost? Why didn’t God save Joseph Stalin? Little Joseph started out a lamb like everyone else, and in his youth he studied to be a priest, so when he wandered off, why didn’t God go find him and bring him back, especially before he caused the death of seven millions? And you have some acquaintances whose lives are unfortunate or miserable, and you grieve their loneliness and bitterness, but God just seems to let them go. If it makes God so joyful, then why doesn’t God save everyone? Why does God let anybody go?

These parables attract us and resist us, positive and negative, because they suggest a God who is passionate and emotional, a God who reacts. You see it in our first lesson, how God reacts to the quick and easy idolatry of the Israelites, and it’s Moses who is the steady one, the more mindful one, who gets God to settle down. So which is it? Does God react and change his mind, is God passionate and personal, or is God constant and faithful and ‘unchanging as light”? Most of our friends and neighbors prefer a God who is impersonal, that spiritual energy of the universe, more mystical, less historical, less hysterical, less jealous, less angry, less passionate.

It is a problem. The Christian doctrine of God has built-in contradictions, and Our Lord Jesus only adds to them. He allows the contradictions in order to protect this truth: that whatever else does not add up, this has to be maintained, that this God is such a God as to be able to say, “I want,” and “I desire,” and “I prefer,” and “I choose,” and “I will,” and “I do,” and “I love,” and “I love you.” Do you want that to be true, do you want to believe in a God who can talk like that?

The down side is that such a God can also say, “I do not want” and “I do not desire” and maybe even “I do not love.” Someone who can love can also get angry. Whoever can desire must also judge. The god that is just the spiritual energy of the universe does not judge and has no anger.

Passion means heat. What if God has to burn me to save me? What if God has to judge me to rescue me? If God seeks out the lost sheep, will God also seek out a lost wolf? As in the case of the Apostle Paul. He confesses in our epistle that he was the worst of sinners, a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man of violence. He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and yet God sought him and found him. And knocked him down and blinded him and sent him off to the desert for a few years. Paul always regarded his salvation as a surprise, a wonder, he never took it for granted.

I cannot explain to you why God lets some coins not get found and some sheep not get rescued. I can say that it’s not a matter of the value of the coin or whether the sheep is worth the rescue. Worthiness is immaterial. We are all worth it, infinitely. But why some and not all?

We should not infer from this that God doesn’t care, that God doesn’t passionately care. That God doesn’t love them too, the coins not found and the sheep not saved. Many things are not explained to us, and this is one. Salvation is like physics, that getting certitude about one factor forces uncertainty on something else. We have to hold up the contradiction, that God loves everyone infinitely, and that it is you whom God is coming to find.

You are left with this promise: Your little life is huge to God. God chases you fanatically. God is the woman with the broom, and she’s moving the furniture of history to find you, she is sweeping the dust of your life to expose you and to grab you. Can you be so childish, so silly, as to regard yourself as the center of God’s universe, if only for yourself, and even momentarily? It is what Jesus is inviting you to believe.

But why else repent, why do such a risky and vulnerable thing, unless the sacrifice that Jesus made of his own life exposes the deepest secret of the universe? When you repent of your sin you are opening yourself to that infinite person, that passionate being whom we call God, the one who is behind all the matter and energy of the universe. Your repentance gets at the joyfulness of the universe. The joy that God has over you is the excess of the God’s love for you.

Copyright © 2013 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

September 8, Proper 18. Contradictions 2: Choose God or Choose Life.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 1, Philemon 1-21, Luke 14:25-33

The first contradiction is obvious, between the lessons from Luke and Deuteronomy, between what Jesus says and what Moses says, between possessions and possessing, between possessions to be given up and possessing the land as a gift. Which is the way of life, the way of blessing?

Moses was giving his final summation to the Children of Israel as they were poised to cross the Jordan and take the Promised Land from the Canaanites, who were already possessing it, thank you very much. Moses had just reiterated the Torah, with all its commandments and decrees and ordinances. It was their constitution and their code of law. Moses summed it up with God’s deal: you observe the commandments and decrees and ordinances, and God will keep you in possession of the land, God will bless you in it with prosperity, and God will protect you from the enemies around you who will soon enough attack you to plunder your prosperity. God will protect you and bless you but only if you keep the commandments and decrees and ordinances; that’s the deal. Choose it, Moses tells them, choose life, choose for prosperity.

But Jesus says to choose death and adversity. "Whoever does not carry his own cross cannot be my disciple. If anyone comes after me and does not hate father and mother and wife and children, even life itself, cannot be my disciple." Hate life, not choose it. Hate your parents. What about the fourth of the commandments, that we should honor them? Jesus contradicts the commandments and decrees and ordinances. No wonder so many good Jewish people declined to follow him. Which is the result he seems to want. He makes it hard to follow him.

The contradiction is less extreme if you look into the commandments and decrees and ordinances which Moses had reiterated. The deal that God offered them would make them sitting ducks, from the Egyptian or Syrian or Philistine point of view. The constitution of the Torah made absolutely no provision for an organized defense. The radical equality which the Torah gave to every man in Israel meant there was no upper class, not any nobility, and thus no military officers. The deal was that the Lord of Hosts would defend them if they just observed the commandments and decrees and ordinances. Is that a deal that you would take? If you were Senator John McCain, what would you advise? If you were Barak Obama? Would you not hedge your bets? Would you count the cost? Would you have your intelligence services evaluate the numbers of your enemies and the realities of their threats? Is the deal God offers too great a risk of death and adversity?

The commandment and ordinances included the decree of the Sabbath year, when they should give the land a rest, and every seventh year plant no crops, and have no harvest, and depend on God to somehow give them daily bread, and they should forgive all their debtors and any land they’d bought during the last six years they’d give back to its prior owners, all of which looked like a recipe for recession and adversity and hunger and death. No investments, no capital, no crops, no harvest, no food. If you were Timothy Geitner, would you advise this deal?

So from the worldly point of view, from the perspective of conventional wisdom, the deals of Moses and Jesus are about the same. They come at it from opposite ends and meet in the middle, at an deeper contradiction, the general contradiction between the blessing which the Lord God offers us and our experience, and thus what our experience teaches us about the realistic way to security and prosperity. We have facts in our lives which give us doubts that we can count on God to protect us and defend us and give us life. We get sick. We lose jobs. Our enemies attack us. We experience no less than unbelievers do all the vicissitudes of life, the unfairness and injustices and pain and loss.

We want to choose for God and thereby get God’s blessings. That isn’t wrong. I pronounce a blessing on you every week as the last thing in the service. I don’t say that as empty words. We give you personal blessings at Holy Communion after the passing of the cup. We mean them to be real. But we don’t control these blessings. My benediction is not a blessing from myself, I only dare to say it on behalf of God, and I have to leave the reality of that blessing to the promise of God and the mystery of God. And how long do you wait, how often don’t you go for very long stretches when you cannot feel that the face of the Lord is shining on you.

Do I wish I could say that there is a cause and effect connection between choosing for God and getting blessings? I understand that is the message of Joel Osteen on television, and that’s why he’s so popular. I don’t think he’s faking it, I think he must really believe it, and it’s only natural to want to believe it. It’s the most natural kind of religion, that if we do the right things with the gods then they have to bless us, that’s their job.

But this convenient god is not the god of our scripture lessons. Both Jesus and Moses are warning us of the necessary contradiction between the promises of God and our experience of prosperity, between the offer of God and our ordinary vision of the good life. We want to take the short cut by hedging our bets and squeezing the law and gospel into the expectations we prefer, but Jesus tells us we have to go the long way round, the whole way to the cross, and there give all that up.

So from what Jesus tells us here we all have to give up our possessions and our families and take vows of poverty and celibacy and become like monks and nuns. No, that’s not the right take home. That misses the deeper contradiction. That suggests that your righteousness is something you can achieve by means of sacrifice and exercise, like good grades or great muscle tone. Now, we do need to say that God really no interest in blessing you with possessions. The expansion and protection of your material prosperity is immaterial to God, doesn’t care either way, except God does care about how much we are tempted by our possessions.

So here’s the right take-home. You may choose to keep your possessions, but then you must repent of your possessions every day. “Oh God, I ask you once again today to forgive me for my possessions. I confess that I cannot justify any last one of them by any righteous reasons I propose. I admit that I may hold on to them only on your sufferance, only on your indulgence, as they are yours.”

In my reading of this passage I am quite certain that the Lord Jesus is telling you to give up your self-possession, to give up your right to your own life. He’s telling you to surrender your self-determination. Your life belongs to him. Everything you possess about yourself. Your mind, your soul, your ambitions, your opinions, your self-control. He’s talking about abandonment. He’s talking about surrender. He’s the king who comes against you with his 20,000 troops, and you must sue for peace with him. He has conquered you and he requires as his booty not less than everything you possess, from your coffee-maker to your marriage to your children to your own image of yourself and your hopes and dreams. He is your adversary, he is your adversity, he is your death, he is your contradiction. That is how he saves you: he conquers you and you must abandon yourself and all you have to him.

This all is parable, and as with every parable he is telling it about himself. That’s why his words are so hard, because of how hard it was for him. He has to surrender himself, he has to abandon himself. He is the rightful king of Israel with only 10,000 troops who is facing his Father in Heaven, the Lord of Hosts with 20,000 troops and he must give up, he must give up himself and all his possessions, even the right to his own life. He is the best man that has ever lived, and does God protect from his enemies? He is the most honest man who ever lived, and does God defend him from the lies they use to convict him? He is the most loving man who ever lived, and does God bless him with a wife? He has honored his father and his mother, so the fourth commandment says he should live long in the land that God has given him, but all he gets is thirty-three years. Jesus is talking here about himself, and the contradictions of his own life.

Why does he do this? To get to the cross, that constant contradiction. To accomplish the atonement, that troubling resolution. To win the forgiveness of your sins before the face of God, the only lease on life you have. He died the death of a slave to set you free from your slavery that you might be his brothers and sisters. So once again it’s love. Behind the hardness is his suffering, and the motive for his suffering is his love. The situation is desperate, it is the only way. Yet once again it is the love of God for us.

Copyright © 2013, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.