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Sell All You Have

One of the things that has turned me off concerning the organized church is the hypocrisy on the part of its leadership which is reflected in the behavior of its membership. The church is supposed to be a change-agent in the name of Jesus, but it has settled for a watered-down version of the Christian mission that makes it indistinguishable from the public at large.

For instance, "Turn the other cheek," "Love your enemies," " Forgive 70 times 7," "Take up your cross and follow." Seldom are these texts used as requirements for membership. Rather, they are discounted as impractical idealism in a world such as we live in today.

In Luke 18 we read of a rich young ruler who comes to Jesus asking how to receive eternal life. He brags that he has always fulfilled his religious duties but, apparently, he realizes that this is not enough. Jesus agrees. He tells him that he must do one thing more - "Sell all you have, give to the poor, and follow me." And the account ends by saying that the man went away sad, because he was very rich.

Now, people obviously see this as an instruction which cannot be followed literally, or society would dissolve into chaos. But this teaching is different from those which tell us to love, turn the other cheek, forgive and take up our cross. It is not meant literally - it's a metaphor. The irony, however, is that the spiritual meaning of this teaching is even more demanding than the literal interpretation.

You and I are the rich young ruler. We are part of the wealthy minority in the world. We are a world power with democratic traditions, we think we have a mission to recast the world in our image, we are a Christian nation which exports religion along with democracy, and we retain the subtle assurance that since God has blessed us more than most, he must love us more. As a result, we often feel that we are acting in the name, and with the authority, of God.

The modern thrust of this biblical story is that we will never see the Kingdom of God if we continue in this frame of mind. Our ego-driven philosophy tells us that might makes right, that we can settle every conflict by military means. Jesus, by contrast, tells us that peacemaking and forgiveness are the only tools that bring in the Kingdom, or that establish world peace. Our present administration, which claims to be so loyal to Jesus, ignores the fact that it acts in almost complete opposition to his teachings. The philosophy of strike and counter-strike has created the mess in the middle east. Violence not only fails to solve this problem, it generates more counter violence.

Jesus confronts us as the rich young ruler of our day: "You have to sell what you have -- your hubris, your history of viewing the world through a gunsight -- and realize that forgiveness and love alone will bring in the Kingdom." There are no guns in the Kingdom, and we cannot get there by blasting our way in.

He challenges us to choose between the physical, ego-driven world, and the spiritual, Holy Spirit-driven Kingdom. Most people, like the ruler, go away sad because they don't want to give up their rich traditions, their illusion that, because we are a Christian nation, God is pleased when we force our will on others. People who think that way don't believe that Jesus knew what he was talking about when he called for peace and forgiveness, and so they choose the world rather than the Kingdom.

Someone has to break the cycle of violence if we are going to create a new world. The church should be setting the example, but it is often merely part of the problem. Like the ruler, we ask, "What must we do to see the Kingdom, to create a world of love and harmony?" And the answer is still the same: "Realize that your best weapon is not the ego's earthly goals, but the Holy Spirit's timeless call for love, forgiveness, and peacemaking."

Posted 7-31-05

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2006