Monday, July 4, 2016

Jesus' Most Counter-Cultural Challenge

"Rich Young Man" by Mironov

In the self-professed "land of the free," and in a global context defined by rapidity of change, it is worth pondering which of Jesus' teachings most challenges the times in which we live.

It could be "blessed are the peacemakers" and the call to radical non-violence.

The powers of the world certainly like to impose their will on others via force, and radical secularism rationalizes its state-sanctioned violence almost as convincingly as does radical Islam. However, there is at least a consensus among reasonable people that peace is preferable to war. The world still longs to celebrate peacemakers, in the hopes human flourishing might advance without endless streams of bloodshed.

Jesus is himself the Peace which the world cannot give itself, but this is not his most counter-cultural challenge.

It could be "blessed are the pure of heart" and the call to chastity.

We clearly live in a world whose understanding of human sexuality has come unhinged. There is no doubt that the ever-expanding pornography industry drives the demand for sex-trafficking, and the sexual abuse of women and children runs rampant. However, there is at least a recognition among reasonable people that lust run amuck is not a good thing, that God has created us male and female from the beginning, that self-giving love is preferable to mutual use, and that celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom is truly possible.

Jesus provides the answer to today's confused and confusing questions about human sexuality, but this is not his most counter-cultural challenge.

Jesus' most counter-cultural challenge is "blessed are the poor in spirit" and the radical rejection of greed.

In a world dominated by impersonal global markets, the idolatry of money is ubiquitous.  Whether first-world citizens are blue-collar laborers or white-collar executives, pension plans and retirement funds rise and fall with the daily roller-coaster of results on Wall Street.  For citizens in developing nations, the only path to prosperity seems to be participation in the very cycles of production and consumption which hold their nations hostage to allegedly "free" markets.

Even in his times, Jesus' proclamations on financial matters were shocking: "How hard it will be for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven"!  The Lord challenges the common idolater within both the 1st and the 21st century heart: "You cannot love both God and mammon."

Indeed, Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples that they must sell their possessions, give to the poor, and follow him. He pronounces as Good News the fact that only those who are freed from their craving for wealth and attachment to riches will enter the Kingdom of God.

Those who dare to accept this challenge come to understand the Lord's enigmatic explanation that "For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible."  

Peace and purity of heart hinge on spiritual poverty which is utterly dependent upon God's generosity. Let's keep praying that the Lord's kingdom will come, rather than our own--