Wineskins Archive

February 11, 2014

Little Pockets of Resistance (Jul-Aug 2002)

Filed under: — @ 6:21 pm and

by Mike Cope
July – August, 2002

In my university classes on “The Life and Teachings of Jesus,” I’ve often asked my students, “What is your favorite story in the Gospels about Jesus?” Nearly every possible story has been named.

One that has not yet been nominated is the encounter of Jesus with the “rich young ruler.” It’s a story we’d just as soon pass on. This eager young Command-Keeper was stung by these words: “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).

Now there’s a kick in the gut! What this young man heard was, “Forget it, Pal. You have a fat chance of getting eternal life.” His face fell, and he snuck away sad. But there is one crucial little detail mentioned only by Mark. Before telling us what Jesus said, Mark informs us that “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” The whole story hangs on this little piece of info.

Jesus wasn’t scolding; he certainly wasn’t bludgeoning. He was looking deeply into this man like a physician who’s trying to make a diagnosis of an illness. It was the same look he gave a blind man who needed sight or a bleeding woman who needed healing. Because he loved this young man, he told him something no one else would likely tell him. That still holds true today. If you struggle with overeating, society will offer its help. If you battle drug or alcohol addictions, then friends, physicians, therapists, or recovery group members will jump to your aid.

But what about someone who is in love with money, with consumption, with shopping, with retirement accounts, with possessions? Don’t hold your breath waiting for a campaign that warns you about lust for stuff! Our economy is largely built on consumption and over-consumption. As Rodney Clapp has insightfully written, “The affluent, technologically advanced West seems more and more focused not on consuming to live but on living to consume.” Advertisers want you to believe that your life is missing something—until you rent their vacation house, until you purchase their SUV, until you dine at their luxury restaurant, until you have the newest technology.

Regis’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” did so well for a couple years (until we got overexposed!) because there’s an implicit assumption: everyone would! Don’t hold your breath for a follow-up show called “Who Wants to Be a Peace Corps Worker?” It just wouldn’t fly! We have all been educated in the school of insatiability. We need just a little more. To consume is to enjoy, and to enjoy is to live. Life is found in the abundance of things. So as a result, families across the board are saving less and borrowing more.

Nearly everyone, whether their home has 8,000 square feet or 800 square feet, thinks they need just a little more. Nearly everyone, whether their income is $15,000 or $150,000, thinks they could be happy if they made just 20 percent more. The real issue isn’t income. It’s insatiability.

Jesus’ words came like a stun gun because he loved this man. He wanted to tell him the truth that no one else would tell him. He wanted him to know that life is NOT found in the abundance of stuff. He wanted to warn him about the funny things insatiability and dissatisfaction can do to your life. He wanted to raise red flags about the bizarre ways we tie net worth and income to self-worth and power.

The Small Steps

We are so enmeshed in consumerism that we can hardly escape it completely. Most of us won’t take vows of poverty. But wouldn’t it be wise, in light of the constant warnings of our Lord and the pressing needs of our world, if we took small-but constant steps of resistance?

What if we meditated more and talked in our Bible classes more about the words of Jesus that relate to wealth? What if we heard them in all their bald affront before writing them off? “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor.” “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” “Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.”

“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”

What if we learned to be thankful?

Try it: the next time you are consumed by the desire to purchase something someone else has, stop and list the things you are grateful for. Here’s part of my list: a woman who has loved me for nearly a quarter of a century; a college student with a heart for God; his third-grade brother who lets me coach his little league team; a roof over my head; a job that is meaningful; health insurance; friends who know the worst about me and love me anyway. When I stop and think about those things, the tug of insatiability begins to lessen.

What if we learned to share? Malcolm Street realized that as a wealthy Texan it was just too easy for him to ignore the needs of people all around him. So he began giving generously. He started taking mission trips to places like Haiti and Honduras. He built and then operated apartments for frail elderly people who needed assistance. And he lives well below his means so he can be near people with the greatest needs—people with whom he also leads a regular Bible study.

Sure, Malcolm Street is rare. But…couldn’t we all make sacrifices in order to share with people who need housing, food, job training, and medical care?New Wineskins

Mike Cope

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