Jesus was a poor man, a simple man. He was raised by a carpenter, more then likely became a carpenter, and until he stepped into his role as Christ, worked as a carpenter. His disciples, likewise, were laborers – minus Matthew – who, though skilled, more then likely lived day to day. We don’t know for sure of course, but it fits the historical context of the time of Jesus. Unless you were Roman, or Jewish royalty, you were simply a peasant, a worker, he lived and worked day to day.
We know Jesus had supporters and we know he had followers. On more then one occasion Jesus fed his followers with little, because that is all they had, and because of faith, he made it big. Jesus took all they had, and made it more. Likewise, after Jesus, his followers did the same – taking their possessions, selling them and held everything in common. They took small things and made it huge, eventually the largest religion in the world. Jesus was known for praising the poor over the prosperous, and known for teaching poverty over prosperity. He told Nicodemus to sell everything and follow him, he told the parable of the rich young man who could not let go, and therefore would not see the Kingdom of Heaven. The ways of God are not the ways of man, and money was a means of man, and, by the example of Jesus, was merely a shackle that must be broken. We see in the betrayal of Judas that the Father did not need money to accomplish salvation, and sadly, Judas doesn’t have that revelation until it is too late.
We live in a modern world. We have modern church buildings, we have modern bills, what does this mean for us as believers? As Christ said, the poor will always be with us, and he was right. Poverty is now like it was then, just more complicated. What we have now that we didn’t then is buildings – cathedrals, “vaticans”, office towers, arenas – which in turn binds us to money, both in need and desire. The church today is rich, some would argue too rich, and with being rich comes the consequence of money, the ever present need for it. We can argue that we need these things to spread the Gospel, though Paul, who refused money and supported himself as a tent maker, would probably disagree. We can argue that to spread the Gospel we need TV, we need big buildings, though in its most powerful moments the Church had none of these things. In fact, it wasn’t until the Church became a political power that money mattered.
Jesus taught lessons in humility, poverty, yet we teach messages of prosperity, and it grates against the grain of the message of Christ. Yes, Jesus didn’t have access to million dollar airplanes, but I’m positive that even if he did, he wouldn’t have bought one. The early apostles didn’t buy expensive caravans to parade around in, the traveled on ships – sometimes against their will as prisoners – to spread the message of Jesus. Jesus didn’t say if you follow me you will be rich on earth, he said we would find our treasure in heaven. Does this mean we can’t have earthly possessions? I don’t know, but what I do know is that the early Christians were less concerned with themselves and more concerned with the community as a whole. They were not only willing to give up everything they had to live in common with one another, they were even willing to give up their very lives for the sake of the Gospel. These men and women were true believers, letting nothing come in between them and their faith.
Jesus would not recognize the Church of today, with her big buildings, he large statues, her printing presses, her television stations. Jesus would not recognize the apostles of today, with there large houses and their Mercedes Benz. He would not recognize the common Christian either, with nice houses and our large bellies. What he would recognize is the slums, the political corruption, the sleaziness of religious leadership. The pride and arrogance, the greed. If we follow the Bible, and even bring tradition in, we would be self sacrificing for the good of the community. We would not worry about being prosperous, we would worry about being a faithful witness. We would not need wealth, we would need community. Sadly, I believe that we are beyond the ability to do this. The problem isn’t our desire to be what God wants us to be, the problem is money.
We no longer have church in our homes, we have it in large buildings. We no longer are the poor ourselves, some of us never even experiencing poverty at all. We no longer feel the need to give everything – only a portion, because we have our own personal desires. We like the idea of sitting in a nice wooden pew made out of expensive Oak, in an air conditioned building, singing songs from a band that plays through a nicely tuned sound system. To think we would be gathered together, huddled closely in a 2 bedroom apartment around a candle is ludicrous, yet that is how our forefathers in the faith worshiped Christ. Even more, they actually feared for their lives, knowing that at any moment, soldiers could come and take them away to their deaths. Of course, the argument is that we live in a different world, society has changed, and that is true. We have become shackled once again to society, through money, and in turn, become ineffective messengers. We have turned the message of the Gospel – of love and sacrifice – into a message of prosperity, a message that needs to be fed by the masses, instead of being fed by the Mass. We have lost moral relevance to our cultures because we have embraced the culture in which we live, and in turn become a business that still claims to be not for profit. We claim that we have to be rich to secure the rich, instead of being like Paul and relying on the Holy Spirit to speak the message to those in station above us. We go to seminars instead of slums, we sit in air conditioned buildings to here the words of Christ instead of turning to the streets and the homeless to share a meal. We ensure our status by wearing our best for Jesus, and in doing so neglect the ones he came for, the ones who wear all that they have, they ones who have nothing left in life but the air that they breathe.
The danger in this is that we can become the same pharisees that Jesus condemned, we can become the same money changers who promise a way to salvation by exploiting the poor. So maybe I was wrong, maybe Jesus will recognize us, it just wont be as we would like him to.