They came to Jerico; and as [Jesus] was leaving the town, with his disciples and a large crowd, Batimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was seated at the roadside. Hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me!”
Many of the people rounded on him, “Re quiet,” they said, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him;” so they called the blind man and said, “Take heart; stand up; he is calling you.”
At that he threw off his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do?”
“Master,” the blind man answered, “I want my sight back.”
Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has cured you.”
And at once he recovered his sight and followed him on the road.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Billy Bob Shakespeare, Sonnet CXVI
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him and said, “Master, we should like you to do us a favor.”
“What is it you want me to do?” he asked.
They answered, “Grant us the right to sit in state with you, one at your right and the other at your left.”
Jesus said to them, “You do not understand what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink, or be baptised with the baptism I am baptized with?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said, “The cup that I drink you shall drink, and the baptism I am baptized with shall be your baptism; but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant; it is for those to whom it has already been assigned.”
When the other ten heard this, they were indignant with James and John. Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that in the world the recognized rulers lord it over their subjects, and their great men make them feel the weight of their authority. That is not the way with you; among you, whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the willing slave of all. For even the son of man did not come to be served but to serve, and to surrender his life as a ransom for many.”
They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, Jesus leading the way; and the disciples were filled with awe, while those who followed behind were afraid. He took the Twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to him. “We are now going to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the son of man will be given up to the chief priests and the doctors of the law; they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the foreign power. He will be mocked and spat upon, flogged and killed; and three days afterwards, he will rise again.”
At this Peter spoke. “We here,” he said, “have left everything to become your followers.”
Jesus said, “I tell you this: There is no one who has given up home, brothers or sisters, mother, father, or children, or land, for my sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much–homes, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and land–and persecutions besides; and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last and the last first.”
Here’s the first obstacle: Just about everyone reads this story and says, “Who, me?”
We are rich in our hearts. And thus Matthew’s evasive amendment: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” doesn’t soften things nearly enough. In our hearts we’d still like the blessings of security, sufficiency, and a large estate to play in. What’s wrong with that?
There’s nothing obviously wrong with finding an elegant hand-crafted ring that makes the bearer invisible; but when you read _The Lord of the Rings_ and see how the Ring twists people’s minds, you stop thinking of it as a pleasant convenience and recognize it as intrinsically evil.
“Well, that’s just a story. And money doesn’t have to twist our minds! I know some perfectly nice rich people!”
I know perfectly nice people who like to drink too much. Personal factors determine whether they take to parroting talk-radio concepts or merely go heedlessly driving over pedestrians, but there’s no question it’s a barrier between us, and limits them.
“Yes, but poor people aren’t any better than anyone else, and I don’t really have all that much, and people in my family need things too!”
See, where there’s guilt there’s evasion. Maybe there’s even more evasion than there needs to be, because few of us are that guilty. Few of us can imagine, much less actually intend the various horrors that have been routinely inflicted in the process of safeguarding our privileged position. (Which position is not, as we know, an unqualified blessing–but is as hard for us to leave as for an addict to do without his fix.)
Money is a good thing; it helps us escape the painful and crippling effects of poverty, an evil much more common and obviously debilitating. Who can deny this?
Should we strive for moderation? No, recognize the tension. Tension holds us upright against torques that would otherwise flop us forward on our faces or back onto our butts. Awareness of opposing forces helps us balance ourselves in a comfortable position. But it’s hard to sense the forces accurately when one is terrified of falling.
Is this really about “going to Heaven when we die?” Well, no, it isn’t. But it is about Judgement. Our civilization has screwed things up on a vast scale, and continues to harm people on a vast scale, and we shouldn’t either forget that or dwell overmuch on it. When our present way of life collapses–that fall will be our only possible escape from overwhelming, growing evils, and it will also be traumatic. We can do this the easy way–or cling to what we have, and take a hard fall.
The Kingdom is not in the sky. You don’t have to die, you don’t even need to give your money away and go on the streets to get in. But it does cost all you have.
And then you have everything you need. But it’s harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one person to enter the Kingdom alone.
I find myself back in my old home digs and my landlord has retiled the bathroom. Seems the floor tiles in my bedroom closet that I was complaining about being loose were loose because water form the tub was seeping under the floor boards — and growing a ripe crop of mould. Splains why I’ve been suffering respiratory issues for three months. And the doctor has been telling me to ignore it — its only a reaction to medication and will go away after meds are adjusted. It always gives me a warm feeling in my heart when medical professionals take for granted that patients are incompetent to know what’s going on in their own anatomy or be consulted in their treatment.
But. I spent a week on the West coast — I peered down mountain gorges, took pics of glaciers and saw 400 hundred year old trees again for the first time in three decades. I breathed real air. And came away semi-refreshed in body and spirit. Though I ate too much of the stuff I shouldn’t.
Jesus looked around at his disciples and said, “How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.”
They were amazed that he should say this, but Jesus insisted, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
They were more astonished than ever, and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked them in the face and said, “For men it is impossible, but not for God; to God everything is possible.”
There’s a modern concept that people can make money in ways that add to everyone’s common wealth. The notion that any number of rich people actually make their money in such ways is suspect, but we do have the concept, and the people of Jesus’s time do not.
For them, respectable wealth comes from agricultural land; there’s a limited amount of it, and if you get more, your neighbors consequently have less.
As a good 1st Century Jew, can you acquire such wealth from lawful transactions?
Leviticus: (25.23) “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me… (25.35-38) And if your brother becomes poor, and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall maintain him; as a stranger and a sojourner he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or increase, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.”
Deuteronomy: (15.7-9) “If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of the towns within your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take heed lest there be a base thought in your heart, and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release [of debts among other things] is near,’ and your eye be hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and it be sin in you.”
Some hundred years before, Hillel had found a way around the 7th year limitation, precisely because Jews who had fallen on hard times could not find rich neighbors willing to lend without interest or collateral. Since then, land had increasingly become a commodity to be traded as in pagan cultures, and many families had lost their land to join the ranks of those day-laborers featured in some parables.
William Herzog, in _Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God_, makes a good case for the possiblity that the whole story is a set-up. Jesus lists the actual crimes the man has not committed, but deliberately omits the commandments about honoring God, which must necessarily have been violated in consolidating so much wealth, and continuing to hold it in the face of his brothers’ need. I can’t do justice to Herzog’s case here, but I agree Jesus is implying that the man has acquired his wealth by violating the spirit of the traditional Jewish Covenant: “Perhaps it has not occured to the rich man that, while he has never killed a man face to face, he has most likely degraded peasant farmers to the status of day laborers, and from the time a peasant becomes a day laborer, devoid of the safety net of the village and with nothing left to sell but his animal energy, to the time he dies of malnuitrition is a matter of a few years at most. Every time he alienates a peasant family from their land he has pronounced a death sentence upon them… Every time that he has blamed his victims for the plight that he and his class have visited upon them, he is bearing false witness against them. It probably has not occured to the rich man that, while he has never mugged anyone on the street and taken their money, he has used the system to rob the poor blind…” For Herzog, Jesus is simply asking the man for restitution.
How to apply this to our own times? Don’t we consider it “success” to gain a comfortable life without work–certainly without harsh labor? Which implies that someone else will have to do it. There aren’t many people who haven’t at some point needed to do something unpleasant for their living–which somehow legitimizes it in our eyes–but how many of us have done our share of the suffering of this world?–or had merely our share of its goods? In principle, more of us than you’d expect would choose to share fairly, but the choice the world offers is “either too much or too little.”
But what happens if every good person “sells all that he has, and gives to the poor?” Only bad people would have land, after that? The price of land would fall until poor people could afford some? The bad people who’d bought all the land would have to pay their laborers more than a denarius per day? Everybody would repent?
Obviously we don’t have Jesus laying out a rule book here or setting us obstacles we have to jump to “earn” eternal life. But if Jesus is our ruler, how far do we and our institutions measure by this scale?
As he was starting out on a journey, a stranger ran up, and kneeling before him asked, “Good master, what must I do to win eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
“You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not give false evidence; do not defraud; honor your father and mother.’ “
“But Master,” he replied, “I have kept all these since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked straight at him; his heart warmed to him, and he said, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have, and give to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; and come, follow me.”
At these words his face fell and he went away with a heavy heart, for he was a man of great wealth.