“Late have I loved you,” lamented Augustine. At the tender age of 43 I feel as though I have been previously blind to the specific social, economic, and communal instructions of Messiah. A paradigm of faith-that-transcends-the-world made me blind to faith-that-works-to-transform-the-world. To put it more simply: having accepted the idea that the world is hopeless and more like hell than heaven, I bought into a reading of Yeshua that his calling is for faith that largely ignores the world and seeks an escape ticket to be used at the end of this life or the end of this age, whichever comes first.
I think Bonhoeffer’s musings on “religionless Christianity,” just before he died for his faith and commitment to standing for the Jewish people, were too unbalanced, but nonetheless true if taken as a corrective and not a replacement (from his Letters and Papers From Prison). He said, “It is not with the beyond that we are concerned, but with this world as created and preserved, subjected to laws, reconciled, and restored.” I would say, “It is with the beyond that we are concerned, but to make this world as much as possible, here and now, like the beyond while we wait.”
So, here is what I want to discuss in this post: my sense that coming days will be hard, my belief that the communities of Yeshua have something real to do and offer at all times and especially in hard times, and the more literal way of reading Yeshua’s teaching for disciples.
Coming Hard Times?
Maybe . . . I said maybe . . . things are about to get a lot harder for a lot of people. More will be out of jobs. More will find their mortgages foreclosed on. More will find themselves with little or nothing to live on. Prices . . . maybe I said . . . will rise dramatically.
If I’m wrong, well, I’m a theologian and a rabbi, not an economist.
Nor am I saying that the coming hard times are the Apocalypse. I suspect they are more “birth pains.”
I am thinking, however, that the coming hard times will cause many outside our communities to look inside and see if we have something. We are like Yeshua walking the hills of Galilee saying, “The kingdom is at hand.”
But when outsiders looked in on Yeshua, they did not see empty promises. They saw substance.
Real Discipleship is Involved
As Ched Myers says in Binding the Strongman, “Mark’s gospel was originally written to help imperial subjects learn the hard truth about their world and themselves.”
In other words, Mark carefully shows us a Yeshua who forms disciples, organizes them to go out and demonstrate the kingdom to people in the land, promises a future of wholeness and union with God, and opposes the Temple state and corruption that harms people and enriches the few.
But in most of our disciple communities today, we’ve bought into the empire:
(1) We’re in debt up to our ears so that one fourth or more of our budgets go the “paying the man” (paying debt).
(2) We say we can barely support our religious communities and have little or nothing left over to use to help other people, but if we valued frugality and freedom from debt, we would have plenty to help with.
(3) We see ourselves as individuals in society instead of as individuals in a community of power, change, and grace.
(4) We dilute the message of Yeshua to hope for a distant future, ignoring the limited but real differences we can make now.
(5) We have not formed alternative communities resisting the competition and greed of the powerful, but have copied the powerful and compete for wealth and power even as religious communities.
Resistance by Being and Being-Together
I’m not interested in who is elected to Congress or labels such as “liberal” or “conservative.” I have opinions, but I think something else is far more important.
Instead of trying to be in-the-empire-and-to-manipulate-the-empire, I think we should be an-alternative-to-the-empire.
That is, we should in our communities, love one another as Yeshua loved, forgive one another, support one another, and make this world as much like the world to come as we can in our limited power. Those on the outside looking in should see us helping one another, sharing resources, being a family that transcends biology, giving alms and selling possessions. Sound radical? Read Luke 12:33 and ask yourself, “Have we taken this kind of teaching from our Messiah seriously in our movement?”
Something like paying off debt and even mortgages could be deemed discipleship. It doesn’t sound much like the gospel we are used to. But Torah has an ideal of a community of faith where people lend to one another without interest. Debt enslaves borrowers. People who are debt-free have much more to give. And being debt-free is a kind of resistance movement: resist the man, don’t enlarge his economy of greed, but instead keep desire for new things and luxury in balance with greater needs.
I wrote an essay on frugality for Riverton Mussar yesterday (will be posted there next week). A year ago I would no have had anything substantive to say about the topic.
If times to come are going to be hard, we will all wish we started a few years ago and did not wait until now. But late is better than not starting.
And if times are going to be hard, we will be seen as either frauds or faithful. Will we have families moving in with each other in the face of foreclosure or will we continue in our what’s-mine-is-mine mentality? Will we see family based on the will of God that is deeper than the usual individualism and competition?
The people around us will be looking, especially if people are losing jobs and homes. Will those outside our communities want in?
The Jewish Value of Healing the World
How do we explain the remarkable convergence between Yeshua’s teaching and Jewish spirituality? In this matter of “bringing the kingdom now,” we find that Judaism has this value (see Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Heal a Fractured World).
I explain it two ways: (1) Yeshua and the rabbis operated from the same tradition and so the trajectory from Torah and prophets to Yeshua and rabbinic Judaism has much in common and (2) I think Yeshua has been hidden but present amongst his people for the past two thousand years and Judaism’s developed traditions have Yeshua hidden in them all over the place. If you don’t agree, no worries. I’m just saying that is what I think.
“One cannot reach the position of being able to recite the verse from the morning prayer (1 Chron 16:8) without experiencing the deep, inner love stirring one to solicitousness for all nations, to improve their material state and to promote their happiness,” said Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (cited in Sacks’ book).
We serve a vision of the world to come. Disciples of Yeshua have much to do in this world, which will be renewed by the world to come. I will post a link later today here with reference more specifically to Yeshua teachings in this matter.
And here is an article in support of the thesis of this one: “Kingdom as Social, Economic, and Communal Resistance.”