Looking at the ethics of the kingdom of God, alerts me to the importance of perception or how we view the world around us. Developing a holistic character ethic has a four dimensional focus: “passions/loyalties, our perceptions, our way of reasoning, and our basic convictions.” That perception plays a fundamental role in our interpretation and social embodiment of teaching is a profound observation that is often not perceived, ironically. Let’s consider what Jesus taught about how we look at things and how it affects radical discipleship.
The pure in heart are blessed, because they will see God…
Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also
The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. So if the light within you is darkness—how deep is that darkness…
Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
(Matt 5:8; 6:19-23; 7:5)
I have made the mistake, and a lot of us have, in viewing the beatitudes of “attitudes you have to be” moral behaviors that Christians strive to procure. Make no mistake, believers are to be pure, hunger and thirst for justice, and mourn, but Jesus is not concerned at this moment with moral effort, he is announcing the reign of God. He has some very good news, for those who are poor, oppressed, and who long for justice, the rule of God is for you! “Welcome to God’s empire”, he, shocks. Those who have singled good intention, and who recognize that purity is not based on religious ceremony, or respecting socially accept “holy spaces.”
In the Sermon on The Mount, Jesus teaches that where we lay up our money will affect how we perceive things, among other things. Do we find this strange? Abou El Fadl states, ”The meaning of the text is often only as moral as it’s reader. If the reader is intolerant, hateful, or oppressive, so will be the interpretation of the text.” We westerners are particularly vulnerable to both to Jesus’ warning and Fadl’s observation.
We are rich. There is no mistaking it. We are the rich young ruler. Jesus’ charge cuts to the heart. “You cannot serve God and financial security.” Our treasure are not stored in places that thieves can steal, or that weather can damage (notice, he is not talking about storing up treasure in the heart). We are enjoined rather, to store up treasures “in heaven.” Let’s not mistake this to mean if we do good moral things down here, then we will have mansions at the end of time “in heaven.”
For a Jew, “heaven” was a circumlocution (a round about way) of referring to God. The kingdom of heaven is synonymous with the kingdom of God, which means God’s rule over creation. For the Middle Easterner the sound eye is a generous person and the unsound eye is a greedy person. To store up treasures “in heaven” must mean to use our wealth, to assist the poor and needy, to seek economic justice, and to have mutual communion among each other, “because he who gives to the poor lends to the Lord.” (pro 28:27). Only then, can disciples in a community embody Jesus’ good news message and participate in the rule of God. Only then can the body give light and be undivided, for being loyal to financial security and hording wealth, and being loyal to God isn’t a possible option.
But this blog entry isn’t written to guilt Americans; it’s written to make us disciples of Jesus who live in America, realize some faults we bring to the “way.” I believe that the poor, humbled, marginalized, minority and misfortunate , have something very important to bring to the disciple in way of perception and in lifestyle. We need to keep our ears perked and take a seat sometimes and listen, power, prestige, and wealth does not give us the right to interpret and embody scripture–in fact it will be a hindrance. The Enlightenment has taught us to believe that knowledge is an individualistic and intellectual endeavor. I prefer the Hebraic understanding, to know (yada) means to experience.
Black Theologian, James Cone, makes astute remark of how ones “social location” plays an important role in what questions they ask of the text. For someone like Martin Luther, a monk concerned about how to be found acceptable in God’s sight, would ask questions about how he could be in God’s favor, or as a theologian he would ask was Jesus present in the Eucharist. An American slave on the other hand, Cones observes, would ask “whether Jesus was present in the slaves cabin.” His point is keen and pointed, well off disciples or people, who perceive things from towers, power structures, or ivory towers, need to be aware of their viewpoint and how their filter can pollute discipleship.
How we view “the cause of whatever is wrong” (threat perception) also plays a role in a holistic character ethic. Stassen observes,
Christians who believe they are righteous and others outside their community are sinners will probably locate the threat outside themselves and not feel called to real repentance. But Christians who emphasize Jesus’ teaching that we need to take out the log from our own eye are more likely to search for ways that we might be contributing to the problem…Christians who see sin as bondage (Rom 3:9; 6:12-23; 7:13-25) are more likely to look for ways of deliverance from systemic causes of the threat; Christians who see only sin as free choice are more likely to assign blame or to urge moral efforts.
We must ask ourselves, are we contributing in anyway to the injustices, harsh penalties, and hurt that is around us? And if so, we must constantly be repenting and trying to aid in the healing process. If disciples are the body of the Messiah, then we are his hands and feet, his compassion, and his love in a broken world. We cannot be hands off; because Jesus was not hands off.
As disciples, we don’t follow rules, just for the sake of following rules, as a means to an end, we follow rules because they have a broader overarching principle (i.e don’t murder, because we are to respect human life). Taking it a step further we don’t follow principles as a means to an end either, but we follow principles because they form our character into our Father, “Love your enemy...For God gives rain to the good and bad alike.”
Perhaps we should consider these things when we carelessly vomit out “if those do not work neither should they eat” while turning a blind eye to those who are jobless, or discussing how we can financial help people, or whether a bum, or a person on welfare should receive our hard earned money.
Perhaps then, we won’t read “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” as going to church three times a week, having all our ducks in a row, or reading the Bible everyday, but rather to seek after God’ rule and his justice (sexual purity, conflict resolution, non-violent enemy love, truth telling, and generosity) in our lives and the lives of the communities around us.
Perhaps our religious leaders, preachers, and bible students can begin to remove the logs (self righteousness, moralism, legalism, greed, oppression, mean-spirited behavior among others) from their eyes, and then begin to participate in the actual reign of God, that it be “as in heaven, even so on earth.”