A Meditation for 13 March 2016, the 5th Sunday in Lent (Year C). The meditation is based on Isaiah 43: 16 – 21, Philippians 3: 4 – 14, and John 12: 1 – 8
What did Jesus mean when He told His disciples that the poor would be with us always? Did He mean that poverty was a permanent condition that could never be fixed and that we should just accept the idea that some people will never have enough to survive, let alone live in a reasonable manner?
Or was He pointing out that the political and economic system might be corrupt and that there were those whose wealth and status came at the expense of others. Remember, in the Gospel reading Judas Iscariot wants Mary to sell the oil and give the money to the poor. We also know that John, the writer of this Gospel has a burr under his saddle when it comes to Judas so he proclaims Judas wanted to steal the money from the group’s common treasury, of which he (Judas) was the appointed treasurer.
Not withstanding Judas’ motives, that he saw the need to have money available to give to the poor suggests, at least to me, that the social support system of that time was not working. If it was, there would have been no concern about how an expensive oil might be used.
The prophet Isaiah tells the people that their God, the God who brought them out of slavery and exile, has provided for them. In a desert land where water is at a premium, Isaiah points out that God provided them with water so that they could live. And because their basic needs have been met, they, the people of Israel need not worry about that and can be more attuned to what is to come.
We live in a time that probably would have driven Paul crazy. If, as he warned the Philippians, there were religious busybodies running about then, more interested in their own appearances than they were concerned about others, how would he react today. I don’t think Paul would have cared very much for those who say that they are evangelical Christians today.
Those who proclaim themselves evangelical Christians today seem more interested in their own fortune and well-being than they do the fortune and well-being of others. Those who have taken the name of Christ have, in my opinion, taken it in vain.
You cannot say you are for Christ and then say in the same breath that you hate people or that you are willing to go to war and you feel that feeding the hungry or healing the sick or taking care of the homeless is a waste of time. But then again, many of those who say this say it is because the poor will be with us always so why do anything about it.
About six weeks ago, I wrote a piece entitled “I Am A Southern Evangelical Christian! What Are You?” in which I defined evangelism as
“declaring the good news about what God is doing in the world today. Evangelism should challenge individuals to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives, and to allow the power of the Holy Spirit transform them into new creations. But it is more than that.
It involves proclaiming what God is doing in society right now to bring justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed. It means to call people to participate (nasty word there, don’t you think) in the revolutionary transformation of the world. Evangelism is what Jesus said it was: broadcasting the good news that the Kingdom of God is breaking loose in human history, that a new social order is being created, and that we are all invited to share in what is happening. God is changing the world into the world that should be and we are invited to live this good news by breaking down the barriers of racism, sexism, and social class.
Evangelism requires that we declare the Gospel not just by word but also by deed and we show God’s presence in this world by working to eliminate poverty, prevent unjust discrimination and stand against political tyranny. Evangelism calls us to create a community through which God’s will is done, here on earth, as it is in Heaven. (borrowed and adapted from Tony Campolo’s foreword to Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts; for more see “Who Are You Following?” or “What Do We Do Now?” where I consider how to apply the thoughts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as those of Clarence Jordan and edited).
It is not easy to be an evangelical Christian when it requires that you work, perhaps without the glory that you think should come for doing just a smidgen of the work. It is not easy to be an evangelical Christians when such efforts run counter to the expressed nature of society where self comes before community. It is not easy to be an evangelical Christian at a time when society doesn’t seem to care about people.
What was it that Sir Thomas Moore said to Richard Rich (in “A Man For All Seasons”
Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.
Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?
Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.
It isn’t a matter of what society thinks; it never was. It is a matter of knowing in your heart that you have accepted Christ, that you cast away all that you were before, and that you walked with Christ. And you have walked with Christ to the Cross and you kept walking afterwards, carrying the message of hope and promise throughout the land.
It is not easy; even Paul knew that. But he also knew that keeping his focus on Christ was what he had to do.
Where is your focus?