Tag Archives: rich young ruler

Shapeshifting Hippie Jesus

A popular progressive blogger recently said that Jesus “doesn’t lay heavy teachings on people” in connection with his yoke being easy and his burden light (Matt 11:28).

So if Jesus’ teaching seems too heavy and hard for folks (Lk 9:23), does this mean that they merely need to reinterpret Jesus or soften his commands in order to ease their discomfort? I sure hope not.

I prefer Bonhoeffer’s sentiment that those who accept Christ’s commands are the ones who find his yoke easy and the burden light, but to those who resist them (him) his yoke is hard and the burden too heavy for anyone to carry. Just ask the rich man, or those listening to the Sermon on the Mount for the first time.

Jesus didn’t say, “accept yourself and take up your sword and follow me.”

Which translates this way today: I’m fine the way I am and I’ll fight (by whatever means necessary) anyone who says otherwise.

This seems to be particularly reflective of our narcissistic, morally relativistic American society still experiencing the destructive political and social consequences of the 1960’s. We can easily see the error of the tactics used by the Religious Right in the 1980’s to promote a power-over, politicized Jesus, but it was the social “hippie” revolution that completely emasculated Christ and transformed him into an anything-goes “love” guru.

If you follow my writings, you know that I’m not down with the cage-fighting Jesus. I’m an Anabaptist. I believe that Christ is love (agape) and peace as revealed on the cross, but these truths are understood in their purest form after letting Jesus define them for us in word and deed, even in the hard stuff.

It doesn’t happen, and will never happen, by shaping Jesus to fit a new cultural trend, what is politically correct, or what the current zeitgeist (spirit of the age) would have us believe about ourselves, the Messiah, and the sacred Scriptures.

Anyone who reads the Gospels will hear Jesus teaching a radical repentance to come into the Kingdom (Matt 3:8; Mk 1:15; Lk 5:32; 13:1, etc.), but our shape-shifting of Jesus to accommodate our cultural presuppositions about ourselves and our world appears to be keeping us from actually repenting of anything.

Jesus didn’t lay heavy teachings on people? No, quite the opposite. But this is where we are today: well-intentioned folks fed up with fundamentalism not realizing how dangerously close they are to reshaping Jesus to further their own interests and agendas—another version of fundamentalism, the libertine sort.

As Jesus said, “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” to those who lived by the law. I’d say it equally applies to those who use fancy-free language that make folks feel better about their sin in order to promote an easy believism, or a moral therapeutic deism. They both stink to high heaven!

To be clear, I don’t think the one who said Jesus “doesn’t lay heavy teachings on people” really believes that the love of Christ is an “anything-goes” sort of thing, but this misleading rhetoric inevitably sets a person on a trajectory of disaster. It’s not the pathway of repentance for the inheritance of the Kingdom.

Christ ought to be forming us into his image, not the other way around. That is the critical difference. It’s certainly what has made all the difference in my life.

What do you think? When you read the Gospels, is Jesus laying down some hard stuff? Do you hear Jesus extending a high invitation and high challenge to those who would join him?

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

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Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth (4 of 7)

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18

In the previous installment, I made the case that Jesus was not religious.

It is clear from the Gospels that Jesus did not seek to get his life from a system of religious beliefs and behaviors. On the contrary, he rebuked religious authorities and was hated by the religious world system.

Instead, Jesus got his LIFE from a relationship with the Father.

When we attempt to get our life from anything or anyone other than the person of Christ, whom the Scriptures testify as the source of all LIFE (Jn 5:38-40), we create for ourselves a religion. We must repent of it.

As I said in the introduction to this blog series, I’m using seven provocative statements as a way of summarizing the radical life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the NT. This is why the world hates Jesus and his good news.

And why they will hate those who choose to follow him.

Now we must seriously consider another reason for the world system’s hatred of Jesus. And it has to do with Jesus’ rejection of wealth and his woeful language to those who hoard it for their own pleasure.

4. Jesus Rejected Materialism

Second only to the religious leaders and hypocrites, Jesus’ strongest rebuke was reserved for those who are rich in this world. It’s a bit frightening.

In keeping with Yahweh’s heart expressed through the Prophets, Jesus carried on the OT tradition of defending the poor and pronouncing woes upon the rich (Prov 14:31; Isa 41:17; Jer 22:6; Ezek 16:49; Lk 4:18).

Listen to the words of Jesus from Luke 6:20-26 (NIV):

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.”

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

It appears that the heart of Jesus’ rebuke against the rich is due to the fact that these people have oriented their entire lives around their wealth and status. They don’t own stuff, it owns them. Meanwhile, the poor suffer.

For these folks, money has become an idol—an idol that demands the reforming of all priorities around the accumulation and hoarding of wealth. Money drives them. They are slaves to their god, Mammon!

“You can’t serve both God and money.” Jesus, Matt 6:24 NLT

Consider how a large bank account kept the rich young ruler from following Jesus (Lk 18:18-25). Jesus asked him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor, but the man wasn’t willing or able to do it.

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When Jesus said it’s hard for the rich to “enter the kingdom” of God, he didn’t mean what many evangelicals mistakenly assume, i.e. that it’s hard for rich people to “go to heaven” when they die. Far from it.

Jesus was never concerned about a post-mortem, disembodied, interim state called “heaven” between this life and the next. What he meant was that those who are are consumed with wealth, fooled by this world system of greed and covetousness, can’t see the beauty of the upside-down Kingdom of God on the earth, and therefore they most certainly will not inherit the resurrected world to come. They reject God’s economy now and forever.

As Jesus told the church at Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev 3:17 NIV).

Therefore, those who are rich in this world are incapable of understanding God’s economy and becoming oriented to the way of a lowly, itinerant Messiah who demands them share their wealth with those in need.

Think about the sort of Kingdom economics that Christ revealed:

  • The first shall be last, the last shall be first (Matt 19:29-30),
  • Leave everything behind for greater reward (Mk 10:29-31),
  • Hire at different times, pay the same wages (Matt 20:1-16),
  • Willing to leave ninety-nine for one (Matt 18:12-14),
  • Sell/leave everything necessary for the Kingdom (Matt 13:44-46),
  • Give out of your poverty, not just abundance (Mk 12:41-44),
  • Cancel the debt owed to you (Matt 6:12; 18:21-35),
  • Don’t hoard, use abundance for the Kingdom (Matt 25:14-30),
  • Seek the Kingdom and needs will be met (Lk 12:31).

Jesus rejected materialism for the sake of the Kingdom. He left his family and livelihood to travel the countryside preaching he was the manger-born Messiah promised by the Prophets. He lived and taught things that your financial planner most certainly wouldn’t approve of, even in a good year.

He turned over the tables of moneychangers and drove out those who profit from religion. Jesus didn’t take money from the bank, he walked in and knocked it to the floor—showing its cosmic insignificance to God.

Jesus called Roman tax collectors to repent, no doubt a treasonous act. He told his followers to pay taxes without grumbling against Caesar, seen as nothing more than blasphemous capitulation to the system.

Jesus said to “store up for yourselves riches in heaven” where nothing can steal or destroy it (Matt 6:19-20). In heaven, God’s space, it’s safe. Jesus’ invitation is to invest in a Kingdom that will last.

When your treasure is with God, you don’t have to worry about economic recessions, falling stocks, and government shutdowns.

You live for the Kingdom until you die. Don’t worry about stuff, because you can’t take it with you. With the Kingdom plan, you don’t have to worry about retirement (Lk. 6:24; 12:13-21). It’s taken care of already.

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” Jesus, Lk 12:21 NLT

While Jesus isn’t suggesting that we all live destitute, he clearly warns about the great dangers of living to accumulate wealth, and the power it has to shift the mind to things that are passing away (Matt. 6:24; 13:22).

As the proverb says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” Prov 30:8-9 NIV

Jesus told a sobering parable of a rich man who went to hell, and a poor man named Lazarus who joined the Father in heaven at his death (Lk. 16:19-31). It’s the only parable where the righteous person is named, and the “rich man” is left nameless. How troubling for the rich in this world.

He means to say with this parable that the time to repent is now, before it’s too late. The world system, and those who currently benefit from it, are on the way out. Make your choice: God or money?

“This is what Jesus had in mind: folks coming together, forming close-knit communities and meeting each other’s needs– no kings, no major welfare systems, no presidents necessary. His is a theology and practice for the people of God, not a set of suggestions for empire.” Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President

Let’s face it. It’s greed and power that drives the quest for empire—an empire that is prophesied to fall (Rev 18). It’s that same lust for wealth that seeks to take root in our own hearts. The good news of Jesus declares the old way of competition, accumulation, and domination to be finished.

The love of money is the root of all that is evil in the world (1 Tim 6:10). The clarion call of Christ is to spit out the maddening wine of empire, and instead drink from the fresh springs of God’s economy.

Just know that those who hold the coffers won’t go silently. They hated Jesus and his message, so they will hate those who decide to follow him.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Read the next post:  5. Jesus Challenged Worldly Wisdom.


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