Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pentecost 6C

The year was 1996. I was in my second year of pastor’s school - aka “seminary”- and a friend from my music school days invited me to a Halloween party. Always up for a good time (and fee beer) I agreed. For the life of me I can’t remember what I dressed up as, so don’t ask.

I arrived around 10:00 that night and the place was already packed. From the pot-bellied math student dressed up as Britney Spears, to the half-naked first year women trying to get attention, I made my way to the living room to meet my friends.

Along the way I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and there was Scott, a friend of a friend. He was wearing a crisp business suit, with a wad of Canadian Tire money sprouting out of his breast pocket, and with a crown of thorns jammed on his head.

“What’s this?” I asked gesturing to his outfit.

“I’m a profit,” he said smirking. “

I stared at him. He looked back at me. Neither of us blinked.

“O wait a second,” he said as he reached into his inside coat pocket. He pulled out a name tag and a marker, and wrote the word “profit” spelled “p-r-o-f-i-t” on the name tag and pasted it to the breast of his coat.

“See?” he said pointing to his crown of thorns and motioning to his suit, “I’m a profit! Get it?”

“Yeah...I get it...funny...” I dead-panned.

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

“Don’t you find that a” I asked, being a humourless seminary student at the time.

“Not at all. This is who I am. 

“What do you mean?”

“It’s my religion,”

“What’s your religion?” I asked.


“Capitalism is your religion? Really?”

“Absolutely! My religion is capitalism,” he said.

“Wow. That’s a bizarre thing to base a religion on,” I replied.

“No, it makes perfect sense. Just like in the bible you know you’ve done religion right if you go to heaven, in capitalism, you know you’ve done everything right if you make money. It provides meaning to life. It builds a society. I’ll have you know that capitalism is the best form of wealth creation in the history of the world.”

He smiled at me as to say, “Self-five! I win!” 

I almost punched him. Not for his religion being capitalism. But for being a smug jerk.

“Besides,” he piled on, “Jesus was a capitalist.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The parable of the talents. The employee who yielded the best return for his boss got the biggest reward. The lazy one who was too chicken to invest any money got thrown into Hell. Clearly, the story means that God rewards those who work hard and invest, and punishes those who don’t. God likes a winner just like everyone else.”


“Also, the creation story clearly tells us that we are to enjoy everything God has created. And capitalism is the best way for everyone to get a chance to do that. Capitalism is a great equalizer. Everyone can gets in. All they need is a good idea and some elbow grease and they can live the life of their dreams! God wants us to be self-sufficient, not to rely on handouts. That way everyone can live with dignity. Capitalism does this. It’s a great force for social good!”

I was surprised that he knew these bible stories, but somewhat alarmed by how he understood them. It could have been that these scripture passages were intentionally mis-interpreted by some business writer esteeming the moral virtues of an unregulated market, in a book that he had read. Or maybe Ayn Rand wrote a bible commentary and I hadn’t seen it. Who knows where he was getting this stuff from?

At first I thought this was schtick, him playing the part for which he was dressed for Halloween. 

But as he went on and on I began to realize that he wasn’t playing dress-up. There was no Tickle Trunk from which he pulled this costume. His was no costume at all. He wasn’t lying when he said his outfit was an expression of who he was. It represented his “religion” the way my alb and stole represent mine.

“God created us to live up to our fullest potential and enjoy everything life has to offer, and capitalism is the ONLY way to make that happen,” he said. I almost expected him to offer a hearty “Amen!” at the end of his impromptu “sermon.”

“If that’s what you get out of Jesus’ life and ministry then - wow! - I don’t know where to start,” I said.

“What do you mean?” he asked

“The Jesus who told that story about the talents (btw you totally missed the point of that story) is the same Jesus who wandered around homeless relying on the kindness of strangers,” I said.

“No he didn’t. That’s just stupid,” he replied.

“Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” I said.

“What are you talking about?” he asked.

“Jesus said that as a way of scaring people off. He told them straight out what it will cost them if they dropped everything and followed him.”

“Say that again,” he said.

“Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head.”

“The ‘Son of Man,’ that’s referring to Jesus, right?”

I nodded.

“So, in other words he was telling them that if you’re join his team it means you’re going to live a life of homelessness and hunger.”

“Well..that’s what he told those who said they wanted to be his followers,” I said.

“He said that they’ll be homeless and hungry.”

“It certainly looks like that,” I replied.

“Well...good luck with that,” he said. Then he held up his glass and said. “Cheers!” before walking away to approach two women dressed as mermaids.

I tell you this story not JUST because I like showing off how I correct peoples’ theology, I tell you this story because Scott is not alone. His perspective is not unique. I think we all have a little bit of “Scott” in us, especially when we read this story from today’s gospel. Jesus does sound a little unhinged, and seems to overreact to some pretty reasonable concerns. 

His popularity was growing. And some might say that it was going to his head.

Jesus is walking down the street and people are throwing themselves at him.

“Hey Jesus, I’ll follow you wherever you go!” shouts one enthusiastic supporter, probably looking to deepen his relationship with God.

“Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head, so if I have no home where do YOU expect to sleep?”

“Jesus, I’ll come follow you. But first I gotta go to my dad’s funeral,” said another. But Jesus isn’t moved. “Let the dead bury their own dead. You go tell people about God’s Kingdom and leave the dead alone.”

“Jesus, as soon I go home and kiss my mom good-bye, I’ll come and be one of your followers,” said a third.

“Don’t bother. It’s either one or the other. Either you’re committed to your family or to my mission. It’s either life with them or life with me. You can’t have it both ways.”

At this point I can imagine each one of them saying “Well...good luck with that,” and walking away to an encounter more to their liking. I know I would have. After all, Jesus’ demands seem totally unreasonable.

A guy wants to follow Jesus and Jesus shoos him away, why would he discourage such an earnest faith?

Another buys into Jesus’ message, and all he wants to do is bury his recently deceased dad before venturing out with Jesus, and what’s wrong with that? He’d be an awful son if he baled on the funeral to join a wandering preacher.

Yet another just wants to say good-bye to his family before leaving everything to follow him, and why is that all of a sudden a bad thing?

Jesus’ behaviour makes no sense. And the bible study commentaries on this passage aren’t any help in trying to figure this out. Most bible scholars and preachers take Jesus’ side, they think that Jesus’ unreasonable demands are just fine. They don’t see what the problem is. They all pretty much say the same thing: “Jesus’ demands are meant to highlight our failure and our need for Jesus to claim a victory that is denied us.”

But I don’t think that’s it at all. That’s not a fair interpretation because Jesus keeps moving the goal posts. It looks like Jesus is TRYING to create fault where there wasn’t fault before. It appears that Jesus is more interested in pushing people away than in drawing them in to God.

And that’s not the Jesus I know. I think most bible commentators and preachers work backwards from a pre-conceived idea of sin, and shoe-horn it into this passage. 

“Since God is always good, we must be always bad” the thinking goes. Most preachers think this passage emphasizes OUR failure so that God will have a victory.

But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I think this passage is meant to highlight OUR faithfulness and YOUR faithfulness. This passage is meant to encourage you, not to shame you.

“Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head. So if I have no home where are YOU going to sleep.”

We are resting in you, Jesus, that’s where we find our home.

“Let the dead bury their own dead. You go tell people about God’s Kingdom and leave the dead alone.”

We have Jesus, because you have made us alive.

“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

We have journeyed with you all these years, Jesus, and we have the muddy feet, blistered toes, and calloused hands to prove it.

This passage isn’t targeted at those who have failed. This passage is directed at YOU, who because of Jesus, have succeeded. You who have kept the faith, you have watched the world change and spin out of control, but whose trust in God has remained solid.

You who have walked all these years along side Jesus, with your hand on the plow, working the fields of God’s vineyard, toiling under the sun, not because you have to, but because you delight in seeing the fruit with every harvest.

You who are alive, with eyes to see and voices to proclaim to the wonders of God’s kingdom, where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control flourish. Jesus is lifting YOU up. Against these things there is no law! That is the abundant life that God has for YOU.

You who may have stumbled, but because of Jesus you have risen. 
You who go through life proud of your bruises because they remind you that you are still alive, 
you who have calloused hands and softened hearts, 
you who have earned every one of your scars, 
this passage is for you.

You are NOT your failure. You are NOT your shame. Jesus has called you by name and made you God’s own. Jesus’ hand is on the plow, and because of him, you will never look back. your feet and wash your hands, you have been faithful on your journey.

May this be so among us. Amen!


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