Thursday, December 20, 2007

Is there a gospel for the middle classes?

Lampmeister commented on my last post:

Ok, but there is no evidence to suggest that there were animals, wise men, a stable or that Jesus had "the lowest birth story". Surely the Christian message is that Christ lived and died for *all*?

This ties into some thinking I was doing this morning whilst walking through the mist to the post office and back (bit late this year with our christmas cards).

Lampmeister, if you're reading this, I hope you don't mind if I answer your question indirectly.

If we look at the life and words of Christ, it is fairly clear that he behaved differently with different people. With some he was angry. With some gentle. With some exasperated. All fine so far.

But if we look carefully, it was the people like us - ie generally middle class reasonably intelligent, sofa-sitting, respectable church attenders - that he was harshest with. The people he spent most time with were people we spend little time with - the sick, the poor, the ignored, the ignorant, the ones with doubts. To those he offered healing, words of hope.

To people like us, the ones who know the theology, he offered the confusing story, the extra mile and the impossible challenge.

The poor, he said, were to be put first, to be lifted up. The rich, he said, were to be put last, put down. To those who knew nothing, he said they understood about the kingdom of heaven. To those who had ticked all the right boxes, he said knew nothing.

Any person of any personal disaster is both a victim of circumstance and bad choices. To a greater or lesser extent, we are all partly responsible for the mess we are in. To a greater or lesser extent, the mess we are in was caused by the environment around us. Nobody is totally to blame outwith of their environment. No environment can be blamed entirely for the mess we are in.

But if we look to the situation of the poor in our world, they have fewer choices and few ways to make their lives better. If we look at the problems of the middle chattering classes, problems are overwhelmingly self-inflicted.

So what is the gospel story for the poor? That you are not worthless, that you are not forgotten, that your Father in heaven cares about you and that he has prepared a place of good things which you missed out in this life. That you can receive supernatural assistance to climb out of your circumstance and change the world.

So in contrast, what is the gospel story for the middle classes? That our lives, our church and our world are messed up, and we are largely responsible. That we are not as important as we think we are. That our Father in heaven has prepared good things which we don't deserve because we have taken more than our fair share in this life - but to receive those things, we must make ourselves poor. That we can receive supernatural assistance to break down the walls of wealth we have built around us, to go out and change the world.

Hear me clearly: this is not to say that our middle class problems don't exist, nor that God does not care about them or us. But for most people, the reality is that they pale into insignificance compared to the lot suffered by the poor around us.

So no, the message is not just that "that Christ lived and died for *all*?". For us, the middle classes, God offers us both love and discipline, and as in the past we have been very anxious to discipline others according to our own arbitrary measures of holiness, we can expect also to be judged as harshly for the messes we have created. If we believe in the gospel, we cannot help but be changed to become more like the poor.

This is all easily seen in the gospels. So we then have to ask ourselves which is more consistent: the Jesus who fits our narrow middle class expectations, or the Jesus who was born into the kind of grinding poverty that a majority of the world experience.

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Blogger Karin said...

I'm not sure it's quite so black and white, Joe.

I don't think it's just about class, but more about attitude. I certainly don't think Jesus came to make us feel guilty. He came to lift us out of selfishness, whether that be blind middle class greed or bitterness and slef-pity because we are poor. He came to open our eyes to our potential and help us see how well off we are, whether rich or poor. God reaches out to each of us in love so that we shall respond to those around us in love in response.

Yes we who are rich should remember our poor neighbours and show them the same love we show ourselves, and we would all benefit from leading simpler lives with less possessions, but if we can earn good money honestly and in a way that is compatable with following Christ I don't think God has a problem with that. It's what we do with the money that matters.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Karin - that just makes the gospel all about us.

It seems to me that Jesus never suggested that the self-satisfied would be allowed to keep their wealth.

Suggesting that it is not about what you have but what you do with it sounds to me like the rich farmer who thought he was justified to store crops, then died showing how pointless it was.

This seems to me to be the missed scandal of the gospel. For people like you and me, the demands are enormous.

2:21 AM  
Blogger Karin said...

I think you've missed my point, Joe, but I was tired last night, so perhaps did not express myself so well.

The message of the Gospel is all about us! The message is that God loves you and God loves me unconditionally!! The message is also that he loves everyone else unconditionally and he is especially concerned about the poor, the powerless, the marginalised and all those in need. The message of this love encourages those who have plenty to share with those who have little, not because they feel they must but because they are compelled by love and new priorities to do so!

So it does matter what you do with your wealth and storing it in barns is not a loving response in a world where so many lack the basics for a decent life. If you do not have much you cannot give so much, even if you give everything you have, but if you are wealthy you can give much while living frugally yourself if you feel that is appropriate.

The Gospel is about us . . . and God, working together for the good of others.

5:38 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

I don't agree that the love is unconditional if you imply that it has no effect on you.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Karin said...

Knowing God's love to be unconditional has had a profound effect on me. :)

2:29 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

I'm not sure we're disagreeing Karin.

Anyway, we each have our own cross, and we must each find our own way.

2:55 AM  
Blogger Benjamin Ady said...

"For people like you and me, the demands are enormous."

Note to self: Must visit Joe's blog more often.

Joe thank you for writing. You get at truth in the brilliantly shocking way it ought to be gotten at.

God's love is unconditional *and* completely conditional. it's all right there in the gospels.

7:59 PM  

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