17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
What I am learning:
We are tempted, after many years of warping the word "salvation" to mean life after death in heaven, to think the man is asking Jesus for a ticket to the train to heaven.This is not a credible way to interpret his question. When he speaks of "eternal life" he is really asking: how can my life participate in God's life - God being the only thing that is eternal.
Jesus answers with the ten commandments, and then he adds one: Do not defraud. Defrauding people is mentioned in the Hebrew scripture (Deuteronomy 24:14) but it is not in the ten commandments. Why does he do this?
I think it likely that it has to do with the ways of the Roman Empire. The Romans set up the economic system to make the rich richer and poor poorer. They used their occupied lands to increase the wealth of the Empire and to support their lavish lifestyles at home. If someone was rich in Jesus' day, most likely they had been actively collaborating with the Romans. If they did not "do as the Romans do" they might well find either a garrison or just as likely the Roman version of an IRS agent on their doorstep.So it could be that Jesus is simply acknowledging that this man has been participating, maybe unconsciously, in an inherently unjust economic system. The man has benefitted from a system that regularly, systematically, and mercilessly defrauds people of their houses, crops, fields, and other property.
Yet the man wants to participate in God's way, in God's Reign. In TCC we talk about the this reign in this way:
God’s Way of Mutuality is God’s love, grace, and shalom in everyday life, in every aspect of human relationship: public, private, economic, political, personal and communal, body, mind and environment.
Jesus loves him and so Jesus tells him to give all his possessions away and to follow him. The man turns away grieving and shocked. I think Jesus is inviting this man, and us, to stop participating in economic systems that defraud other human beings.
It is hard to know what the term "eye of a needle" means. It could mean a sewing needle. It could meet the night gate in many city walls. These gates could be opened at night and they were just big enough for a trader's camel to be stripped of its cargo and to walk on its knees to get in the city. Both are powerful.
In any event the lure of power and security in money is powerful, and only God's power can release us from its grip. When God's power works in us to save us from the grip of this kind of power and security, we find that we have everything we need: brothers and sisters and treasure—we find that we are in a world of abundance.
In the TCC, we commit to a progressive tithe ( http://catacombchurches.org/about-house-churches/commitment/). Within this discipline we are invited to see that our whole lives can be, including our work life, a way to participate in God's reign. Each official Catacomb Church will share evenly in 50 percent of the income of TCC to use in their nonviolent public leadership.
When I click "agree" to the web donation or when I write the check I realize a little more freedom to follow Jesus as he continues to bring God's Way of mutuality among us, not only in our relational lives, but in our economic ones as well.
I am not that interested in finding a new vehicle for weekly worship. I am interested in being a part of a way to be church that enables people to withdraw their support for unjust economic systems. I think Jesus was and is trying to change our world and our world views.
It is my hope that TCC members will be deeply committed to changing the world and our worldviews in the Way of Jesus. This is going to take a high commitment on the part of our members - not to TCC but to God's reign of mutuality.