Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An update on recent thoughts through my reading of Sndra Ely Wheeler

Sondra Ely Wheeler in Wealth as Peril and Obligation: The New Testament on Possessions, concentrates more on the narrated setting and situation of the Markan text. Wheeler approaches wealth in the New Testament through a study of Mark 10:17-31. Mark’s structure builds up to show who Jesus is, the Messiah, and how he must suffer because of who he is (49-50). It is within this structure we find the story of the Rich Man. The man in the story, who is believed to be rich, is unable to leave his many possessions in order to have the life “he knows enough to seek;” as Wheeler puts it “He (the man) departs grieving…the first to mourn his own death” (45). When the man leaves Jesus widens the scope to include those “having riches.” In the following verses the scope gets even wider as it includes Jesus’ own disciples. Wheeler suggest that the heart of the message of this pericope is found in the disciple response to Jesus, “and who can be saved?” Wheeler suggest that this suggests that only through God can it be possible for anyone, even the rich, to “wholeheartedly” respond to what the “kingdom requires” (47). There though is some requirement from individuals in order to be welcomed into the kingdom. For Mark, Wheeler believes, that one’s “undivided love” is demonstrated by “following Jesus on the road to Jerusalem” (48-49). Following Jesus though means that we are not just to follow him around but that we are willing to follow him to his death (49). As Wheeler states, “discipleship is formally following Jesus on ‘the way of the cross’” (51). Within this message we cannot expect the call to poverty as something unreasonable (51). This is not to say that all are called to poverty but that but what this means is that “whatever you have sell it” and “come follow me (Jesus)” (51). This makes wealth a “potential obstacle to discipleship” (53). Wheeler notes that the theme of Mark calls the Church to “some substantive notion of a ‘Kingdom of God’ that might be entered (or not)” (55). This means that a commitment to Christ might teak the form of being called upon to do something “concrete and distinctive” even leaving or possessions in order to follow Jesus (55).
As I read through both Nardoni and Wheeler I could not help but become saddened. As I mentioned above, the U.S. church is rarely a picture or even a glimpse of what it seems that the Kingdom should be. The U.S. church is more concerned with their own individual lives and saving souls that Biblical justice gets thrown to the side and becomes an after thought. Inside the church I rarely encounter individuals who are willing to take the step outside of their comfort zone to really pursue what the Kingdom calls us to be. The church is more interested in pursuing the American Dream. I really question who it would look like to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of justice in a church today. It seems like we are more like the Rich Man, not willing to let go of what keeps us from following Jesus, than we are Jesus’ disciples. How do you proclaim this message in a church that has become comfortable?
I have recently come face to face with this reality in my own life. I have for the longest time thought that I somehow existed above the reality of the U.S. church, not realizing that I was had become just like the Rich Man. I was aware of the cognitive knowledge of the what it means to be a member of the community of the Kingdom of God, but I had bought into the American Dream of a house with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a dog. As I said to a friend two weeks go on the phone, “it is so easy to just buy into the American Dream, it is all so appealing.” The road to Jerusalem though is not such an easy road. It is a road that calls us to ultimately die. While this might not be a physical death, this road calls us to give up our lives and with that our dreams of a picture perfect life depicted in the paintings of Norman Rockwell. So, the question that is left is what does a life lived falling Jesus toward Jerusalem look like, but not only for myself but for the Church?