Sometimes you get the classic putdown where the heckler is publicly humiliated by the guy with the microphone. Difficult to challenge someone whose voice is so much louder, isn’t it? Those occasions are tricky because they may elicit sympathy for the heckler.
An opposite technique is the engagement approach where the comic actually encourages some dialogue and blends it into an ongoing theme. That’s much gentler, subtler and satisfying.
Jesus takes it on, but then turns it back. “Ask yourself why you want it” he seems to suggest. It couldn’t be Greed, could it? And then he makes The Point. The old version has it this way: “A man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.”
There is a Grand Canyon between the way Jesus viewed life and what we may term “a normal perspective.” The question “What is he worth?” is generally answered in terms of how much he has. Jesus counter-questions, asking how much he is. How much are you? How much are you in time and in eternity? What is the measure of you? Are you really to be measured by your bank account? You want that? Are you sure?
No, no: almost everybody would say there’s much more to me than that. My real life –the real Me- is on the inside.
Well, that’s what Jesus was acknowledging.
He was affirming that real life is on the inside. He was announcing the dignity and specialness of the human being. Not that which is supported by meat and drink, but that whose very life is in truth, integrity, honor, purity. ““What shall it profit a man,” Jesus pointed out, “if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Real life is on the inside.
And this is how he answered the heckler. Not by crushing him but by redirecting him to the real point. That what you have or do not have does not define you. If you are oppressed and defrauded then that oppression or fraud still does not say who you are, unless you let it. As Gandhi said “Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”
The man sought to be consoled by retaliation, by the promise of revenge, by the “ought-ness” of fair dealing. But “a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses,” right?
I’m not talking about the struggle for moral justice, for basic human rights. The basic Christian principle of love towards God and towards neighbor is a firm foundation on which those can and should be claimed. But Jesus is going much further here: he is declaring that your real life is your inner life. This whole world is just part of an eternal hope, a spiritual reality that makes this present condition look like a doctor’s rather grey waiting room. The action, that is to say, comes at the end of the waiting! And to over-emphasise the present at the expense of the future is foolish. “You fool!” That is the key word in the story which follows this encounter in Luke 12. Real life is so much more!
By the way, it’s simply astonishing to consider here the consolation Paul offered to slaves who had become Jesus-followers. How did he reconcile them to their lot? By promising that Christianity would produce the abolition of the slave-trade? No; though this was to be eventually effected by the mainspring of Christian principles- but by assuring them that, though slaves, they were free in Christ. “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so” (1 Cor 7:21). Do you see? A practical note on human rights goes alongside an acknowledgement that this, even this, is not the main thing. The main thing is what is going on inside.
So, what’s going on in the heckle? Well, I guess the other brother had his hands on an inheritance; but to maintain it, he had to play hard-ball, he had to cross the line into injustice. His advantage was the property: the price he paid for that advantage was a hard heart. The injured brother had no inheritance, but instead he had, or might have had, an open heart, innocence, a clear conscience.
When we hear the daily outcry against the insolence of power and the hard-hearted selfishness of wealth, we have to acknowledge that only too often these cries have a foundation of justice. But the cost of gaining that power and wealth is clearly marked here: insolence, hard-heartedness, selfishness. They have paid a price for what they have gained.
So if you are yearning for a share in the world’s goods, for a participation in that power, then you run the risk of becoming as hard and selfish and overbearing as the rich guy whom you presently denounce.
Jesus didn’t lay down a list of rules and regulations for how to live. He enacted principles and then told us, so to speak, to “Go figure.”
- Jesus & the Money-gods of the West (Part One) (tithebarn.wordpress.com)
- Jesus & the Money-gods of the West (Part 2) (tithebarn.wordpress.com)
- Uncomfortable Christianity (annawood.wordpress.com)
- Do You Know Your Story? (mattsurber.wordpress.com)
- Sunday’s Message: Jesus on “Radical Trust” (newportchristian.wordpress.com)