This morning I had a thought pop into my head when I first awoke. As such, you should take the following with a grain of salt; I’ve done some light research and I feel called to share this, but keep in mind that I am a lay person and my knowledge of scripture and history is probably flawed.
The thought that popped into my head has to do with two parts of the Bible: the scene where Jesus talks to the rich man and proceeds to tell his followers that it is difficult for the rich to enter heaven and the crucifixion of Christ.
The Berean Literal Bible translates the exchange between Jesus and his followers following his consultation with the rich man as such:
And behold, one having come to Him said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I might have eternal life?”Matthew 19, verses 16-30
And He said to him, “Why do you ask Me about what is good? Only One is good. But if you desire to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He says to Him, “Which?”
And Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, you shall honor the father and mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The young man says to him, “All these things I have kept. What do I still lack?”
Jesus was saying to him, “If you desire to be perfect, go, sell what you are possessing, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in the heavens; and come, follow Me.”
And having heard this statement, the young man went away grieving; for he was one having many possessions.
And Jesus said His to disciples, “Truly I say to you that with difficulty a rich man will enter into the kingdom of the heavens. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
And the disciples having heard were exceedingly astonished, saying, “Who then is able to be saved?”
And Jesus having looked on them, said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Then Peter answering said to Him, “Behold, we left all things and followed You; what then will be to us?”
And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit down upon His throne of glory, you having followed Me, you also will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife*, or children, or lands, for the sake of My name, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Now, there are a few things I’d like to talk about before I move into the meat of this. This is a very popular verse among some people when it comes time to raise money for the church, and I don’t think that what it really means is the rejection of wealth entirely.
It’s About Priorities
The rejection of wealth as a goal, rather than a means to the service of God, is a righteous act. If someone doesn’t feel compelled to a vow of poverty, they should not leave behind their whole possessions and live as a pauper. Likewise, there are many good and pleasurable things that exist in the world which we may be called to deny to ourselves, and others that we may not need to deny ourselves.
Part of this will be tied to an individual’s spiritual journey: some things are proscribed by law (both civil and religious), and some are proscribed by calling and faith. It is important to consider the latter: in Matthew 19 the rich man was called to leave behind comfort and take up his cross, but he refused to, therefore accepting his own rational view of the world over the spiritual view that is
For this reason you can see the righteous rich, who have used their blessings to further God and truth in the world, and the unrighteous rich, even within the church, who make signals of faith but who have not risen to the call that has been placed in their life to pursue something other than money.
We can only love one thing, and sometimes things that we are very passionate about (or which bring us pleasure) can pull us away from the higher calling that we should be following.
A Calling to Suffer Well
Life is inherently tragic, and everyone will have trials that they have to suffer through.
One of the interesting moments in the Crucifixion is found in Matthew 27.
And having come to a place called Golgotha, which is called Place of a Skull, 3they gave Him wine to drink, mingled with gall; and having tasted, He was not willing to drink it.Matthew 27: 33-34
The wine and gall (which I have heard described as either a painkiller or a poison intended to speed up the execution; the latter makes more sense given the historical context) represent a worldly solution to a problem, the pursuit of expedience instead of righteousness.
In this way Christ could have ameliorated the suffering that comes with the cross, and I think there’s a powerful metaphorical message here.
The suffering that we face in our daily lives gives us two opportunities: escape or conflict.
If we escape from suffering, we reject God’s call to improve our lives. All suffering is bearable; I have seen people who have overcome tremendous tragedies and been left alone and isolated even by those that should be supporting them (yes, even the church). This is often accompanied by faith; not necessarily a faith that the world will improve, but faith that the relationship between a person and God can make life worth living and lead to a higher calling
Worldly coping methods don’t heal the tragedy of life.
There are ways to progress and move forward in accordance with right principles: modern medicine, for instance, is a gift from God and psychology can help people overcome elements of their nature.
However, even as the world becomes safer and the distractions from the darkness grow increasingly appealing and complete, there will never be a paradise for humanity within the broken framework of our world.
If we escape from suffering, we try to cover the problem without dealing with the causes. Self-medication, idle amusement, and denial of reality only open us up to a greater chance of succumbing to our own fallen nature and rejecting the path that God offers to us.
Confronting suffering is to accept the fact that our world is tragic, but that God is there to help us through it (look no further than the statement from Matthew 19 that all things are possible with God).
It is to choose truth and the right action (in so much as we can, in conference with the Holy Spirit and our flawed capacities) over self-deception and darkness.
It is to accept doubt, but overcome it through the liberation of faith and the sacrifice of Christ.
It is to strive to avoid evil, to bring ourselves away from courses of action that hide the light of God in the world.