Love & Money

In Wednesday morning Bible Study this week we studied Matthew 19 which I like to call the love and money chapter. Jesus’ teaching on both motives for murder compressed into one chapter.  Even Jesus on these topics gives a little wiggle room saying things like “not everyone can receive this saying” and “let the one who is able to receive this receive it” and “with God all things are possible.” Jesus doesn’t lie.  He is asked legal questions.  “Is it lawful to divorce?” and “What good works must I do?”  And He does give the legal answers. It is just that these legal answers are typically beyond us.  The law is good and wise, and our lives would be better if we followed them. But as Jesus says to one of the questions “because of the hardness of your hearts…”.  The ultimate answer is not to be found in the law.  The ultimate answer is sandwiched in the middle of those two great motives.  The Kingdom belongs to the little children.  Which is not so much a literal statement as a picture written on the heart. The Kingdom belongs to those humble enough to accept the touch of Jesus.  We break the world.  We find ourselves in the ditch.  And we need the touch of God to save us and give us hope.

To me that is the law and gospel of love and money.  But thinking about it further there is something more that needs to be said in our day.  Author Tom Holland, an excellent popular historian of the ancient world, wrote a book recently called Dominion.  And his thesis of this book is true, but dramatically unpopular in academic haunts. He captured it perfectly in the subtitle: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. The Historian of the ancient would, against what he wanted to believe as he was enamored with glory that was Rome and the grandeur that was Greece, detailed how a crucified Jew in a backwater of the empire changed the entire world. And because of that change, even today the world is much more “Christian” than we might think. Let me explain.

In the ancient world, you got what you deserved. If you were crucified you were obviously guilty. The idea that an innocent man could be on the tree was just not possible.  But that thinking is really derived from a deeper pagan idea. Fortune, the Gods, had their favorites. And those the gods favored were rewarded with money, power, fame, glory.  And the reward of the gods was righteousness. The acts of the powerful, because they were powerful, were righteous and ordained by God. The desires of money were always just. If you had enough money to bribe enough people that wasn’t corruption.  That was simply the outworking of the right.  For Jesus to say, “Only with difficulty will a rich person enter the Kingdom of heaven.  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” was earth changing even to his Jewish disciples.  When the gospel says “when they heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying ‘who then can be saved?’” It is because this is a direct refutation of everything they thought about God.  Even the Jews.  Yes, the prophets warned about taking care of the widowed and the fatherless, but even that could find gentile parallels in Stoic thought about fortune.  The wheel turns.  If you are generous when you are up, karma will help you when you are down.  God still rewarded the righteous with power, money, fame, glory.

Our civilization, apparently at the end of this Dominion, is at an interesting point. It is still “Christian” is the sense that we know the innocent can suffer and that we think it is incumbent on a just society to rectify. It is still “Christian” to the extent that it doesn’t equate power with righteousness.  But to the extent that it has rejected both the gospel – let’s put it here as the meek shall inherit the earth – and the law – that the 10 commandments represent how we should live, how long does that Dominion’s conclusions which were built on the proclamation of the law and gospel hold? We already see the secular replacements (“human rights”, “rule of law”, “philanthropy”) breaking and the demands of power and money returning stronger. How long until those demands are again simply asserted at the righteous judgements of god? There are already such assertions in the cults of many current figures in the papers everyday.

If we will not hear the law.  I’m not saying live it perfectly, but merely hear it. Neither do we get the world it orders. That harsher pagan false law returns. And we should not be as surprised as the disciples this time. We know the difference the gospel made. When presented with the King like on Palm Sunday, if we ultimately reject his rule, we should not be surprised when other lords return.