Saturday, July 07, 2012

Discipleship Is In Inverse Proportion to Material Conditions

Moon over our house

"It's hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."
- Jesus, in Matthew 19:24
I think this is a general truth about Christian discipleship (= following after Jesus). The more stuff a person has, the less time they have for following Jesus ("I just don't have time to pray") and the less they feel they need Jesus for themselves (they trust in their stuff). Of course there are some exceptions to this. I have met a few people in my life who have a lot of material wealth and goods who view these things as belonging to God. God can ask them to give His material wealth away to impoverished people. And they do! I am always overwhelmed when I see or hear of this happening.
Who, these days, are rich? You are, if you are reading this (unless you've gone to a library to access the Internet because you can't afford a computer and a wireless setup). I am, because I am typing on "my" laptop, and we have Internet wireless in our home. You and I are rich, relatively speaking. Many of the things we take for granted are but the hopes and dreams of this world's poor. Still, it is possible for you and I to enter the kingdom of heaven. But it's statistically unlikely, because true discipleship is in inverse proportion to one's material conditions.
To get this Jesus-teaching we must recall what the term "kingdom of heaven" means. Jesus is not talking about a place, but about a realm of authority. "Kingdom of heaven" (and "kingdom of God") refers to the rule or reign of God. To enter this kingdom is to come under, to submit, the the reign of God in one's life. Jesus says it's hard for rich people to do this. Which means: most don't follow after Jesus because: a) they are so busy building and protecting their own little earthly kingdoms; and b) they are under the materialistic illusion that they don't need God. It's likely they are unaware that the root issue is not even their personal need for God and to be reigned-over by Him, but that they are His children and He wants to engage them in His redemptive kingdom mission.
John Wesley saw this. He wrote: “wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion.” Ross Douthat, in Bad Religion, comments: "[Wesley's] insight foreshadowed the story of Christianity in late-twentieth-century America, where the riches piled up by decades of unprecedented economic growth played an important role in the dec line of traditional belief." (Kindle Locations 1611-1613).
The decline of discipleship. It's always declined when a nation, or a community, or a family, or an individual have acquired "more."