Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Practical Poverty

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  -- Luke 14:33

The cost of following Christ is great.  I believe I have mentioned before standing on a sidewalk one Sunday evening as a man with tears in his eyes and voice talked about the Pearl of Great Price.  God only wants everything we have, and it is what I hold on to, or try to hold on to that hurts me.  We get confused, though, if we see this as meaning that we have to live in the manner of monks or desert hermits.  We might think of the story of St. Francis who piled all that he had, even to his clothing, at his father’s feet and went off naked and trusting God.  But Wuest’s translation says, “… who does not in self-renunciation bid farewell to all his possessions …”, and this may help us to see that the problem lies not in what we possess or do not possess but in the self which would possess. 

Perhaps it would help clarify if we think not in terms of possessions but of rights.  We are all be endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and, as citizens, we may claim and exercise those rights.  Oppressive people, individually or in groups, may deny us our rights but they don’t take those rights away.  Every human who has ever lived has the right to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness – which pursuit generally involves family and other relationships and the things that in turn support those girders of happiness.   

Jesus demands that we offer our rights up to Him and submit ourselves to His lordship.  If we need further evidence, we may look at another well-known passage wherein the Lord tells us to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and surrender our coat along with our shirt.  We are bidding farewell to our right to self-defense, our right to liberty, and our right to our own possessions.

This is so contrary to the way I think.  If some fool comes down my road and decides he wants to slap me and take my motorcycle – especially Serenity – he’d better be mighty big and mighty quick.  In any case, he will earn it.  Here’s the thing, though, remember when Jesus sent His disciples to find a donkey for Him to ride into Jerusalem?  He said that if anybody questioned what looked like theft, the disciples were to answer, “The Lord has need of it.”  What if Jesus wanted my bike or my tractor or the old Chuckster?  Most of us would say without hesitation – and mean it, “What do I have, Lord, that You did not give me?  It all belongs to You.  Does it matter that He sends an agent to take from us what we acknowledge is His?  His rights supersede ours, and we exercise our rights only as managers under His proprietorship.  If God’s agent is a fire or a flood should we weep long over what He has taken? 

God’s law forbids stealing and killing and abuse, so the thief or the thug  is operating contrary to the divine edicts.  We may reasonably resist such a one.  We have an obligation to defend the weak and the innocent from unlawful predation.  Nevertheless, if a thief steals my car, he has not stolen from me but from God, and to God he is accountable.  Of course, the Lord would be justified in asking the stupid steward why he left the doors unlocked and the key in the ignition and in leaving him afoot until he learned better. 

We renounce our rights to ownership not to care and good stewardship.

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