Rich Man, Poor Man

Welcome to Pentecost 21.   The link will take you to the texts, What follows are my weekly musings on the holy writ...

Amos 5:6-7,10-15

Amos… always such a hit at parties. Some things to note about the warnings he is issuing.

Verse 6: “Break out against the house of Joseph… devour Bethel…’  Amos is identifying the current target of God’s wrath as the northern kingdom, specifically the Joseph tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Bethel is the location of their main sanctuary of worship. Why is God so angry?

Verse 7: the people are failing to practice justice. Not only that, they hate those who attempt to do so. The ‘gate’ in verse 10 is like the small claims court and people apparently hate the person who stands up to fight for the cause of the little guy and who speak the truth to power.

That will have consequences. As Amos states, ‘because you trample on the poor, and take from them levies of grain,’ you yourself will be thwarted in your efforts to lead the ‘good life’ that you have stolen for yourself. (You will not live in the houses of stone you have built, nor drink the wine from the vineyards you have planted)

Amos wraps up the section in his typical fashion with the admonition to return to God (repent, turn back and live). If you ‘hate evil and love good,’ and establish justice in the gate – the courts – it just may be that God will be gracious to you who seek to live authentically. Timely.

Hebrews 4:12 - 16

A strange little book…  often credited to Paul, but this is most definitely not one of his creations. (Even the faux Pauls remembered to sign the letters).  It is also rather controversial because of its heavy orientation around sacrifice. As we have illustrated in other musings about other texts – especially the prophets, who were the first to challenge the primitive religious practice of sacrifice and scapegoating - the trajectory that continues through the New Testament completes the transformation. (Jesus self ‘sacrifice’ turns the old system upside down, in spite of some Christian efforts to mimic the old system by claiming that Jesus death was necessary to appease God for the sin of Adam).

Still, as Thomas Long indicates in his commentary on Hebrews, this is a sermon and not a letter, so we should consider or perhaps excuse much of the language as metaphor and write it off as the art of preaching. (Sigh) Jesus as high priest still makes for an interesting image, and brings to mind the Gospel of Judas, where in a vision the writer sees the apostles performing ritual sacrifice in which he decries ‘holy bloodshed.’

Mark 10:17 - 31

Another difficult text, that is, from a teaching perspective. And, one that we are quick to turn into metaphor (As in, ‘Jesus didn’t really mean for us to sell all of our stuff and give the proceeds to the poor. He really meant to say that we are owned by our possessions and need to change our way of thinking about how much us enough…’ Or, something like that. Anything to confuse the actual point of the message which is of course, quite radical). Interesting to note, too, that Matthew and Luke turn this guy into a lawyer, and also forget to list – you will not defraud – as one of the commandments to be observed strictly.

It I also interesting to note that Jesus is said to ‘love’ the wealthy young man. (Again, Matthew and Luke drop that in their parallels to this story).  This is the only place in Mark where Jesus is said to have loved someone. The only other place the verb agapao appears in the Gospel in in the 12th chapter discussion of the greatest commandment. (Is Mark implying on some level that the challenge Jesus is putting before the rich young man is somehow the ‘loving’ thing to do for him and offered as a way for him to participate in authentic life.

Authentic life – we have talked about this before. Mark and the other gospels do not speak of eternal life. Jesus is bringing in the new age and inviting people to live as if it is already here. Again, this has nothing to do with the afterlife. It has everything to do with living in genuine loving relationship with everyone, the consequence of which is that it will hasten the in-breaking (or, outbreaking, more accurately) of the kingdom.

As N.T. Wright points out, among the various results of this misreading has been the earnest attempt to make all the material in Jesus’s public career refer somehow to a supposed invitation to “go to heaven” rather than to the present challenge of the kingdom coming on earth as in heaven.

But, laying all of this into our current context, I offer an excerpt from Rev. Tim Ehrich’s refection on this text…

“There were no great revelations this past week. We have always known that great wealth is inherited, not earned, and then enlarged through tax maneuvering, not merit or hard work. We know that wealth has crippled social mobility. “Up by your bootstraps” has been replaced by tribal cosseting of the sort that escorted a suspected drunk and sexual predator onto the Supreme Court.
We know that corporations pay huge salaries to executives but pennies to the people actually doing their work. Corporations and the wealthy buy further benefits from Congress, like the recent $1.3 trillion tax break. We know that corruption is rampant, as regulators ignore high-risk lending practices, pollution, and rigged clinical trials. What will come of all this? The wealthy think they own the system. But the resistance has begun. Occupy Wall Street named the bad behavior of the Gilded Set. The #MeToo movement exposed one supposed perk of power, and now titans are losing jobs and reputations. Voters seem poised to strip control from the Gilded Set’s enablers. Elite colleges realize they are in trouble. Corporate recruiters don’t bother interviewing the entitlement set.
In time, as Jesus said, “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” The moral narrative matters. It’s unlikely America will see a Marxist revolution. More likely, the moneyed set will continue to find its myth unmasked, its privileges exposed, its supposed excellence dismissed, and its government benefactors voted out.”