The most troublesome words Jesus uttered weren't about churchy concerns like how you should worship, or what version of scripture you should use, or whether certain genders or sexualities are in- or outside the reach of God. He didnšt have too much to say about those things.
The most troublesome words Jesus uttered were about wealth and poverty. Because, while Jesus had plenty of time for well-to-do people, while many of his friends were among the better-off folks of his community, nevertheless he made it plain that there is without doubt a special place in God's heart for those we would call 'poor'. He spent a great deal of time with those people. He had plenty to say about these things.
He stayed true to the tradition of the Hebrew scriptures which condem those who build their wealth up while exploiting their workers, which give us a picture of God closing his ears to those who lift up their hands in prayer while neglecting the needs of the widows and orphans around them, which in the laws of jubilee give us a model for economics with justice and equality at its heart.
These are troublesome words because they turn our expectations upside down, make us think that our lifestyle choices may not have been so wise after all, challenge us to reassess our values, our friendships, our use of time and money. Make the religious people wonder if we've got our place booked in heaven after all.
But they are also words which have inspired generations of wealthy followers to make friends with the poor and discover the wealth that's there when you give yourself away a bit. They tell us that heaven can be lived out in the here and now, as well as in the future, if we open ourselves up to it.
Jesus said, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." I will not try to put a spin on these words to make them sound easier, gentler to our ears. I'd rather leave them with you as a true representation of what Christ said he stood for, and trust you to take hold of them, take them seriously, let them live a bit in your heart and mind, respond, react, and hopefully appreciate the joy and the justice they contain.
- Heaven shall not wait for the poor to lose their patience,
the scorned to smile,
the despised to find a friend:
Jesus is Lord; he has championed the unwanted;
in him injustice confronts its timely end.
Heaven shall not wait for the rich to share their fortunes,
the proud to fall, the elite to tend the least;
Jesus is Lord; he has shown the master's privilege -
to kneel and wash servants' feet before they feast.
Heaven shall not wait for the dawn of great ideas
thoughts of compassion divorced from cries of pain:
Jesus is Lord; he has married word and action;
his cross and company make his purpose plain.
Heaven shall not wait for triumphant Hallelujahs,
when earth has passed and we reach another shore
Jesus is Lord; in our present imperfection;
his power and love are for now and then for evermore.
- John L. Bell and Graham Maule
Notes on 'Jubilee': The concept of jubilee comes from the book of Leviticus chapter 25 where the people were called on to "consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants". Each one was to return to their family property, meaning that whatever transactions had taken place during the intervening years, the people were to return to a position of stability. This would mean those who had suffered bad fortune during that time would be restored, and those who had flourished would give up some of their wealth for the sake of the community as a whole. God explains the underlying reason for all this in Leviticus 25:17 - "Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God."
There is debate about how often, or successfully, jubliee was practiced in this ancient society, or even if it was ever practiced at all. But it nevertheless provides a model for just economics which continues to inspire and provoke today. The hugely successful Jubilee 2000 debt cancellation campaign was based on these principles, as is its successor Jubilee Research. [back]