Sunday, 14 October 2012

Good is bad is good

Continuing my earlier thoughts about why the gospel isn't all good news, and staying in Mark 10, is the story of the rich young man. It's a terrible story. The man has worked hard and been faithful to the Torah. He's tithed and maintained a personal holiness code ever since he was young1 and has become rich. He has every right to feel entitled to his possessions. He's blessed! Yahweh has fulfilled his promises and rewarded the righteous with good things.

And Jesus buys into this line of argument only for as long as it takes to expose it. I like to read Jesus' initial response with a sarcastic voice, perhaps with a "yadda yadda yadda" missing at the end. It's Jesus' second response that gets our attention. "Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said..." For the man, the covenant of reward-for-obedience is under suspicion and Jesus brings the challenge, not becauses he's up for another rabbinic debate, but becauses he loves him.

That challenge is famous. And again this is where Jesus turns things upside down. Having wealth is not an end, it's a burden and an obligation. Wealth is not to be accumulated, it is to be used to help people. The man saw wealth as the proof of his favour from God, but Jesus saw it as the obstacle to real favour from God; an obstacle that could become the its own solution. Accumulated, it's a burden; distributed, it's a blessing.

The whole story is another example of how Jesus clashes with the Torah while at the same time infusing some of the ideas of Torah with the command to love. Although its better to say, again, that the command to love supersedes the Mosaic covenant. If the rich young man loved, he would already know how to inherit eternal life.

The gospel is bad news for us because it breaks our illusion of the lure of wealth2 and substitutes it with the responsibility of wealth. In the basilea theou resources are not yours or mine, they're ours. And in a world where we congratulate people for material success (whether through luck, hard work or so-called divine favour), Jesus turns the congratulations over and demands further action. What's good is actually bad, but can be turned for good when subordinated to Christ. So the gospel is called the good news, is bad news for hoarders, but becomes good news for hoarders when they are freed from the burden of that accumulation.

1. Since that probably meant from early teenage years, this guy is extraordinary. Imagine a What Would Moses Do bracelet on him and you get the idea.
2. "Everybody wants to be a fat tycoon. Everybody wants to be on a tropic honeymoon." - Michael Franti
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