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Pentecost 18 -- Page 213, October 15, 2000
The Gift and the Giver
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
It is interesting that Jesus told the man to give all his possessions to the poor and not to the temple. It is curious that the divestiture of the disciple is only temporary. Does that mean it is only a tactic not a goal, not a solution for poverty? That is, selling all you have and giving it to the poor is not the end but a means to the end. The end then is a restoration of those possessions after a transforming experience. This parallels the story of Job. He starts out a rich man. Loses everything. Has a close encounter with God and gets it all back. So, what is the lesson? That we should all back-pack into the wilderness for a month, so that we would appreciate what we have? Or, should we turn our lives into a back-pack into the wilderness and wait for the second coming? Or, for the fainthearted, just imagine back-packing in the wilderness and make a generous donation to charity?
Possessions impinge on relationships. If I approach you and you know that I am pennyless, it will affect the way you deal with me. I become a threat to you. My presence calls into question the justice of your having possessions when I don't. What will you do about that? Will you justify the disparity in some way, or will you share what you have with me? If I approach you and you know that I have possessions comparable to yours, you are at ease; if I have much more than you, you are challenged. Which of these relationships better supports the communication of the Gospel from me to you? That is, after all, the purpose of the disciple, to spread the Gospel not to see how many possessions one can give away. Since the poor have little entre with the rich, it is hard for a poor disciple to share the Gospel with a rich person. However, if you preach to the poor people of the world, you'll have a larger crowd.
Possessions impinge on our relationship with God. When we have them, we presume God likes us. When we don't, we presume God doesn't like us. When we have them, we presume we don't need God. When we don't, we cry out to God. Our possessions both confirm and deny our dependence on God. What could God possibly have against our having things? God gave Adam all the animals and Abraham the land of Canaan. Is it that we might like the gift more than the giver?
Psalm 22 struggles with a cognitive dissonance. If God is faithful, why am I suffering like this? The Psalmist remembers God's history of faithfulness in order not to give up hope. The Gospel writers use this Psalm like an overlay of the crucifixion scene. Perhaps Jesus prayed this prayer in their presence in its entirety before he was arrested. Would God intervene in the execution of Jesus? Is there understanding in the most high? Can God restore the possessions of those who give up everything to follow Jesus? Do we have a great high priest who intercedes for us? This is the hurdle that every disciple must leap. It can't be vaulted weighed down with possessions. The resurrection of Jesus says, "Yes, but not necessarily in the way you expect."
Roland McGregor, Pastor
Asbury United Methodist Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
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