“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Luke 6:24
There is a complete imbalance in the church’s preaching of the Gospel.
The church is obsessed with issues of personal morality. Conservative bishops and liberal bishops alike speak forcibly on their views of human sexuality and other moral matters, but seem silent when it comes to the things about which Jesus speaks. Jesus talks a lot about money and very little about sex and all the other issues that preoccupy the church.
Where is the church’s condemnation of wealth? Where is the church’s condemnation of buildings costing millions while children starve? Where is the condemnation of the Prosperity Theology embraced by many churches which is completely contrary to Jesus’ teaching on discipleship? Where is the church’s condemnation of of avarice and greed?
The silence from most church leaders is deafening. Their claimed adherence to biblical teaching is less than convincing
Turning the Gospel into a matter of perceptions of personal morality; turning aside from the values of the Kingdom of God; ignoring Jesus’ teaching on peace and justice; saying people can be Christians without grasping what that means for ethical living; these are the failings of the church which will lead to condemnation by Jesus.
Today’s Gospel reading may cause people discomfort, but didn’t Jesus cause people discomfort? Is there not a certain lack of integrity in only talking about the things that make people feel comfortable? Doesn’t being faithful to the Gospel mean taking on board the awkward bits, the difficult bits, and the unpleasant bits, as well as those bits that fit the acceptable view of Jesus?
Jesus’ declaration that the poor will be happy and that the rich will face woe is troublesome, it is the sort of Bible passage that might be ignored by those who don’t want to annoy people.
When the poor are forgotten and the rich stand uncondemned, the words of Jim Wallis, the radical evangelical leader, from an interview back in 1990, bear repeated repetition:
I was a seminary student in Chicago many years ago. We decided to try an experiment. We made a study of every single reference in the whole Bible to the poor, to God’s love for the poor, to God being the deliverer of the oppressed. We found thousands of verses on the subject. The Bible is full of the poor.
In the Hebrew scriptures, for example, it is the second most prominent theme. The first is idolatry and the two are most often connected. In the New Testament, we find that one of every sixteen verses is about poor people; in the gospels, one of every ten; in Luke, one of every seven. We find the poor everywhere in the Bible.
One member of our group was a very zealous young seminary student and he thought he would try something just to see what might happen. He took an old Bible and a pair of scissors. He cut every single reference to the poor out of the Bible. It took him a very long time.
When he was through, the Bible was very different, because when he came to Amos and read the words, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” he just cut it out. When he got to Isaiah and heard the prophet say, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to bring the homeless poor into your home, to break the yoke and let the oppressed go free?” he just cut it right out. All those Psalms that see God as a deliverer of the oppressed, they disappeared.
In the gospels, he came to Mary’s wonderful song where she says, “The mighty will be put down from their thrones, the lowly exalted, the poor filled with good things and the rich sent empty away.” Of course, you can guess what happened to that. In Matthew 25, the section about the least of these, that was gone. Luke 4, Jesus’ very first sermon, what I call his Nazareth manifesto, where he said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to poor people” — that was gone, too. “Blessed are the poor,” that was gone.
So much of the Bible was cut out; so much so that when he was through, that old Bible literally was in shreds. It wouldn’t hold together. I held it in my hand and it was falling apart. It was a Bible full of holes. I would often take that Bible out with me to preach. I would hold it high in the air above American congregations and say, “Brothers and sister, this is the American Bible, full of holes from all we have cut out.” We might as well have taken that pair of scissors and just cut out all that we have ignored for such a long time. In America the Bible that we read is full of holes.
The Bible with holes seems to have become the standard text for churches around the world.
Hoping to avoid judgement in the future is seen as preferable to accepting what Jesus is now saying.