On July 14, 2009

The Danger of Distance

I just finished writing a teaching about the Rich, Young Ruler for the weekend, probably one of my favorite and least favorite passages of the Bible. It’s my favorite when I’m talking about other people. But it’s getting harder and harder to make it about somebody else.

The same week that I was chewing on this story, we discovered that we have foundation problems on our house, our roof needs to be repaired, and our ceiling just started caving in.

We have some housing issues to say the least.

So I’m living in these two worlds for the last week. One is the word of Jesus to this man to sell what he has and be generous. And the other is the crumbling of my little empire. And then this week something interesting struck me. A roof problem is a rich person problem. Having bad foundation is a rich person problem.

I’m grumbling about the stuff that I have that is falling apart, skipping right over the recognition that I have this stuff. That’s the problem with being rich. We rich people don’t consider always know we’re rich, we compare ourselves to the person who has a little bit more than us, not the majority of the world who barely has a portion of what we have.

So last week I have this profound realization where I am mowing and preaching in my head, and it struck me. I’m probably as rich as the Rich, young ruler was.

He lived in a time, and place of oppressed people and deep poverty. So rich was a relative term for them. He probably had quite a bit of stuff, but I bet it’s not as much as we thought.

This is kind of indicative for us of how I/we read the Bible. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear a preacher say that the Rich man was probably a good guy, we would have liked him, made him an elder etc. I still try and demonize him in my head.

And the reason I think that I/we do this is profound.

It’s because we want distance.

If we can just separate ourselves from this guy, than Jesus isn’t talking to us.

If there is one thing I have learned from teaching and preaching, as well as just personally following Jesus it’s this: the implications of the gospel are dangerous, and not always popular.

So we develop these hermeneutical loop holes to prevent us from really listening.

Remember what the Israelites tell Moses when they first meet God on the mountain. They say, “Moses, you speak to us, but don’t make us get close to Him, or we will die.”

Keep us at a distance.

Which I think may just be the unspoken request of many pulpit committees. Keep us informed but don’t get us too close.

I like the way that Soren Kierkegaard says this:

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obligated to act accordingly.Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

The truth is that I am the Rich, Young Ruler. And you might be too.

And maybe that recognizes that is the first step to hearing the words of Jesus again. Not just as something that was said thousands of years ago to someone else. But something that Jesus is saying, right now, to us.

I know that following Jesus can be dangerous. That has always been true.

But maybe the greater danger is in keeping a safe distance. We can fool ourselves into thinking that what it means to be a Christian involves only pew-sitting, and 10%. We can trick ourselves into thinking the abundant life happens just an hour a week and then wonder why God doesn’t seem very real.

But the person who never steps out in faith, never takes a step closer, might never learn the joy that comes from watching God squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle.

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