Category Archives: radical

Taking Jesus Seriously – Part II

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Rereading my last post, I realize that I wasn’t terribly focused. I went from Shane Claiborne to the righteous rich kid (aka “the rich young ruler”) to God dealing with oppression throughout the Bible to a guilt trip because I’m in the classic oppressing group (white male American Republican evangelical Christian)…to trying to figure out how to battle oppression from within. Kind of a dizzying post, I must admit, so let me step back a bit and try to focus on two related questions: first, was Jesus serious when he spoke?; and second, what would it mean for me if he really was serious?

So, was Jesus serious when he spoke? I’m not talking about whether he was making jokes, but did he mean what he said? When he told the rich kid to sell everything, was he really asking the guy to do that, or was he exaggerating to make a point? When he said to turn the other cheek, did he mean it? Or when he said that you can’t be his disciple if you don’t hate your mom? I know there are hermeneutical principles we need to know and understand that will help answer these questions. I also know how easy it could be to explain away any significant meaning behind Jesus’ words; and in doing so, to justify my desire to not take him seriously. Which leads to my second question…

What would it mean for me if he really was serious? This is where guys like Shane Claiborne make me just a bit uncomfortable…because they take Jesus seriously, and they live it out. Not that they do it perfectly, mind you, but they’re trying. So when they read about Jesus taking care of the poor, they figure they ought to do that, too. When Jesus talks about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, they do it. And when they do, it really messes me up, because I figure if they’re taking him seriously, maybe I need to, too!

One thing about Jesus, though: he didn’t seem to say the same thing to different people too often. Not that he was inconsistent, mind you; rather, he individualized his message. Go figure – he met people where they were at and spoke to their particular need. So when the rich kid asks how to get eternal life, Jesus hits at what’s keeping him from having it: stuff. When he sees a diminutive tax collector up in a tree straining for the slightest glimpse, Jesus goes the distance by inviting himself over for dinner. When Peter boldly proclaims his undying devotion, Jesus points out the chicken within.

So to figure out what it means for me to take Jesus seriously, I have to open myself to his probing eyes and words. I have to let him look into my fears, my idols, my security blankets (which are little more than rags)…and I have to open my ears to him, to whatever he might say to me. And more than likely, whatever he says is probably going to be difficult in some way – it might mean giving up something I don’t think I can live without; or looking foolish to someone…maybe even someone I’d like to impress; or displeasing parents. It may look radical and unconventional and countercultural and…well, it probably is.

Take a look at Jer 42. Some people come to Jeremiah, asking him to ask God about something and promising to do whatever God says, good or bad. But when Jeremiah tells them the message, they respond, “you’re lying!” Not the most charitable or faithful response, huh? I wonder how many times I’ve done that?

I’m sure I’ll be pondering this some more; I hope I get a chance to write more, too.

Was Jesus Really Serious?

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A couple days ago, I started reading a book a friend gave me, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, by Shane Claiborne. This is one of the few “rock your world” books I’ve read. (For starters, think Mother Theresa meets Willow Creek Community Churchl; imagine the culture shock going from one to the other. Shane spent three months working with “Momma T” in a Calcutta leper colony, then did a one-year internship in Chicago with Willow Creek. At least he was able to see Jesus in both places!) As I’m reading, I’m struck by this guy’s radical belief that we’re actually supposed to take Jesus seriously! Do you mean to tell me that when Jesus told the righteous rich kid to sell everything he had and give it to the poor…he actually meant it?!? Claiborne seems to think so!

For the past year or so, I have been doing an unusual (for me) amount of thinking about wealth and poverty, freedom and oppression, West and East, America and Africa. I think it really started when our pastor at Imago Dei Community, Rick McKinley, did a series on Isaiah 61, a passage about freedom from oppression, which Jesus read in the synagogue and then had the audacity to claim was fulfilled in himself right then and there! Ever since then, my eyes have been opened to the fact that God actually cares about the poor…so much so, in fact, that he wants me to do something about it. And not just me, but all his people. This idea is rampant in the prophets (at least in Isaiah and Jeremiah, which are all I’ve read so for for school). Over and over again, God tells the Israelites to break down oppression wherever they see it. Surprisingly, it seems, it is the Israelites themselves – remember, those folks that were rescued by God from the oppression in Egypt – who are guilty of oppressing. And the ones they’re guilty of oppressing are, ironically, themselves. And, of course, it’s the leaders – the “shepherds” – who are oppressing the poorer ones. Hmmm…I guess there really isn’t anything new under the sun. What is grabbing me, though, is not just that God cares about freeing people, but that he wants me to work toward that end. And you, probably; certainly you, if you are in any sense a leader of God’s people.

Here’s a big part of the challenge for me, though: I’m clearly a part of that “oppressing” group – I’m white, I’m a guy, I’m a Christian (and, gasp!, an evangelical Christian), I’m American, I’m middle class, I’m wealthy (at least compared to most of the world), I’m a Republican (though that may change)…and I’ve spent the last 14 years in the financial industry, helping people get rich, invest their riches, manage their riches, and distribute their riches to their rich kids. Maybe I’m that righteous rich kid Jesus met!

Reflecting on his transition from Calcutta to Chicago, Claiborne writes, “I knew that we could not end poverty until we took a careful look at wealth. I was to battle the beast from within the belly.” That’s where I find myself…in the belly of the beast. The question I wrestle with is, how can I confront oppression from the inside?

To be continued….