The Rich Young Man and Redistribution of Wealth

The Rich Young Man and Redistribution of Wealth

Matthew 19:16-26 Isn’t it interesting that Matthew puts this passage about the rich young man right after Jesus blesses the little children.  Of course, these two events may have taken place on different days or even in different years, but switching from the innocent sweetness of little children to someone who has all the resources and sophistication that wealth and education can bring, must have taken a great deal of effort.   I’m told that peace corps volunteers face this culture shock when they return from a third world country and re-enter a grocery store. The wealthy man’s question implies he is coming to grips with the fact that you can’t take your riches with you when you die, and so he is wisely asking Jesus, the teacher and prophet, how he can obtain the one thing he doesn’t yet have: eternal life.  He asks what “good” he needs to do to merit eternal life. When Jesus answers that there is only one who is good; namely, God, and then launches into a recitation of the commandments, the young man counters with what amounts to: “Whoa!  I am good!  I’ve kept all of these commandments.”  Jesus, instead of asking (as I would have): “Then why did you ask me ‘Which ones?’ when I said “keep the commandments?” Jesus must have looked at his clothing, his manner, the care he took of his skin, and then challenged him on the one thing he lacked in THIS life, detachment from his wealth. As the young man went away grieving (“no eternal life for me—yi!”), Jesus commented on the extreme difficulty of getting into that eternal realm with your bags full of money. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible makes the assumption that since the man was wealthy, he could NOT have kept the commandments Jesus quoted; that in that era and culture, he got wealthy by exploiting others, being greedy, and depriving others of what he had accumulated.  The NISB adds: “Contrary to elitist values that often despised the poor and blamed them for their poverty, wealth does not equate with virtue” (p. 1781).  “Wealth has blinded him,” NISB continues, “to unjust, hierarchical social relationships…To follow Jesus is to join a community that renounces domination based on birth and wealth, and where all are slaves (12:46-55; 20:24-28)…To live a life that deprives people of necessary resources, that maintains social inequities, makes it impossible to participate in God’s empire.  Repentance and restructured social and economic practices are necessary.”   Only God can effect that transformation. Wow!  Sounds like a call for the redistribution of wealth, doesn’t it?  Such a call would be fought with great vigor in the United States and labeled “Marxist” by many. ...

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Comments on Proverbs, Ecclesiastes

These two books offer many temptations: for example, to discuss the pros and cons of spanking as a form of discipline; or to expound on the dangers of taking every word of Scripture literally as if it were addressed to us in 2012 directly by God; or to take Proverbs at least as a rule book, as if we were a CPA and got the tax book dumped in our laps with the injunction: “Learn this and you won’t be penalized.” Some cultures have a lot of proverbs. German is certainly one of them. I still remember a few, such as “Arbeit macht das Leben suess” (“Work makes life sweet”) which comes perilously close to the saying over Auschwitz in Poland and other concentration camps: “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes one free”). Surely the placing of this proverb is an example of how a positive sounding sentence can be converted into something ideologically and morally perverse. Can you live your life by proverbs? What can you do with a proverb such as “The early bird catches the worm?” It surely states a truth that can be used to educate, say, a young person who insists on sleeping in every morning and coming late to school? The structure of the book of Proverbs seems to indicate that their purpose WAS education, either as passages of instruction or as one or two-line statements. A father is addressing a child; an elder a young initiate. The book fits right in with Rev. Richard Rohr’s contemporary writings on the first half and the second half of life. In the first half of life, we all need rules and discipline. Without training and structure, the rest of our life is a mess. We have no foundation to stand on, to jump from. In the second half of life, we have less need of rules. Hopefully, we can come to some of the wisdom we read about in these two books of the Bible. One question educators ask is whether wisdom is transferable. Information can be passed on; facts learned; skills acquired. But wisdom? Can quoting a proverb to someone have a positive effect? Or do we have to have the experience to lead us to say when we hear a proverb: Yes! That’s right! I know that to be true. But surely there’s no harm in trying one out—to try getting up early to see if the old proverb is true for us, or whether another hour of sleep makes us much more efficient. Generations and generations have believed in passing along wisdom and virtue to the young. The old McGuffey Readers were full of stories with a moral. The morality plays were the same, and when novels were first written, people were scandalized when the good guys didn’t win. Some of us would like...

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Comments on Jeremiah and Ezekiel

Rev. Richard Rohr, in his daily meditations for April 29 and 30, 2012, writes about the world, the flesh and the devil as sources of violence in our contemporary society as they were in all of past history.   In dealing with the world, Father Rohr reminds us that this one is the most invisible.  We are almost entirely focused on the flesh and individual “sin.” It is much more difficult to see the evil in our culture and our establishments and our systems.  This is what the prophets were good at, and probably why they are and were mostly ignored.  Jeremiah hated this role.  He knew God chose him for it, but that didn’t keep him from disliking what he had to say and do.  Everyone considered him unpatriotic because he was calling into question what the society at that time felt was the only way to speak and act.   An article on global warming and “The Climate Fixers” by Michael Specter in the May 14 issue of The New Yorker reminds us of the relevance of these two prophets.   Depending on which political party you follow, the effects of CO2 emissions on the planet are either to be dismissed or are dire prophecies of the end of the world as we know it.    Still, the New Yorker article introduces several people and organizations that are working on solutions to global warming, and offer some reason for hope. And both Jeremiah and Ezekiel offer hope– Ezekiel in his famous passage concerning the dry bones.  Believers throughout the ages have placed their hope in the Lord, and have put this hope against all the doomsayers of every age. However, that does not mean that we do nothing, and simply let causes of global warming go unchallenged.  In our American culture which is based on capitalism, it may be the religious people who have to call attention to the evils that capitalism can allow, and be the people who say NO, even when profits and shareholders and boards do not permit corporations to control their emissions nor their seeking for greater...

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