Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Being a Camel. What can one say?

Peter Lockhart

This morning I woke up in my 4 bedroom house with its 2.5 bathrooms. I went to the shower with its hot running water and afterwards put on these clothes which cost me somewhere around $300, if you include the shoes.

I went to the kitchen in which I found breakfast in a full fridge and pantry, and then hopped in my car which cost us close to $30 000 and drove here using petrol which costs around $1.60 per litre.

Standing before your now I preach holding my iPad, which cost over $500, plus the Internet I pay for annually.

And now preaching I am called to make a comment on the story of a rich young man who come to Jesus asking, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" To which Jesus responds, "Sell all you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me."

How true it is when the writer to the Hebrews says, "Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow... Before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked."

For me 2 out of 3 of the descriptions of the rich young man remain true and let me say I no longer count myself as young.

In fact I am numbered among the most wealthy people in the world. If you go to the global rich list you will find that my personal taxable income places me in the top 6-7% of the world's wealthiest people.

This is something that I find difficult to comprehend at times given my context. Many of my good friends are lawyers, doctors and accountants, many are engineers and business owners. Quite a number of these people are millionaires and quite a few of them pay more tax than what I earn. It is easy to lose perspective of the fact that I am wealthy.

Now if Jesus' words are not confronting enough, that it is easier for a camel to go through than the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, then maybe some of the other ethical implications of my lifestyle should jolt me to the core.

If you look up websites which detail your ecological footprint you will find some websites which approximate how many earths it would take to sustain all of the worlds inhabitants in the same lifestyle that I lead. According to a couple of different sites, if everyone lived like I do we would need somewhere between 4 and 6 planet earths.

The reality that is continually being placed before us is our Western lifestyle is destroying the sustainability of human life on the planet at the levels we currently enjoy. And, equally disturbing, that our lifestyles are propped up by the exploitation of workers in other parts of the world.

There are so many people in the world who may have reason to cry out as the Psalmist does. My God, my God what have you forsaken me.

Or to wonder as Job does where God is: If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right but I cannot see him.

Reading books like Paul Gilding's The Great Disruption or Clive Hamilton's Requiem for a Species are sobering experiences. Watching Martin Scorcese's documentary Surviving Progress is equally confronting.

For me The Make Wealth History website has greater echoes of Jesus teaching than the Make Poverty History Campaign, which is still of paramount of importance.

Yet the notion that wealth and personal economic prosperity is somehow bad flies in the face of so much we want to hold dear. Success in our culture is so often associated with wealth. And in Jesus time the disciples reaction was no less confused. "They we're greatly astounded and said to one another, 'then who can be saved?'"

I find it fascinating that the lectionary places the story of Job alongside the story of the rich young man. The book of Job is one of those paradoxical mysteries in the scriptures.

Job's wealth is seen as a good thing but he is stripped of it and the debate that rages through the book revolves around the question of whether prosperity is linked to righteousness or not. In the reading today we hear Job longing for God to appear so he can plead his cause.

Yet I also think that Job, as a story which challenges the whole Deuteronomic notion that God rewards those who are good and punishes those who are not, ends on a perplexing note in that Job's wealth is restored. There may be an issues to explore which Jason at some point.

Just as the book of Job disassociates wealth from righteousness so too does Jesus. In fact wealth is viewed by Jesus as an impediment to entering Ito the kingdom of God. This might raise all sorts of questions about where we find ourselves in our own wealth in the western world as Christians.

So where do we find hope. Even though Jesus analogy is extreme, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of heaven.". The impossibility of this analogy is not the defining movement in our faith, for Jesus words are not condemnation of the young man whom he looked at and loved but rather grace is what is offered, "With God all things are possible."

The grace offered is described in the Hebrews reading from today in the High Priestly role of Jesus Christ who stands in the heavenly realm offering true worship to God on our behalf and offering us God's mercy in freedom and love.

For me this shifts the question of the rich young man away from how can I inherit eternal life, for the answer to that question has essentially become redundant because it is only through God doing the impossible that any can have access to the kingdom.

Rather the question is 'how do I now live having encountered that grace'. What does faithfulness look like?

This was a question which confronted me as I recently sat in a meeting with about a dozen other Uniting Church people from around Australia. Most of us who were in the room had a certain passion for justice issues and for serving others yet all of us pulled out our iPad at the beginning of the meeting. iPads produced by a company which led by Steve Jobs has no place for philanthropy and whose workers are known to be heavily exploited in the factories in China.

We live in a complex world in which it is difficult to really comprehend the consequences of our actions, even of buying an iPad. As Zygmunt Bauman says we cannot be sure anymore that any of our actions may not have an adverse effect on a person even on the other side of the world.

The word of God may cut us to the core. The anatomy of our flawed existence is exposed. Yet hope remains because in the end there is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life, it is a gift freely offered. In these confusing times when we are becoming more aware of the problems generated by the culture in which we live, let us take confidence in the grace we have been given and as we seek to live more faithfully consider how we might better follow Jesus as wealthy people.

And us listen to the invitation to the Hebrews and "let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your thoughts - one step ahead is to change from iPad to a different make - until the iproducts will be more in tune with what we believe.