Wednesday, December 04, 2013

A Christian Benediction Before Christmas

Hilaire Belloc's Advice to the Rich: "Get to know something about the internal combustion engine and remember -- soon you will die."

The brief pre-Christmas homily on money, politics and Christianity found below is long overdue.

I can’t be sure that the sort of millionaire who supports antagonistic politicians, always anxious to hang him with the rope he so credulously delivers, is a patriot or a scoundrel. I do know that, generally, money covers a multitude of sins.

Jesus was indifferent about politics, economics and what we would call sex: He knew the road to Heaven was not paved with gold or worldly glory or condoms. He forgave the sins of the flesh readily, having first made inflexible demands upon the spirit, but the materialist itch, He intimated often enough, could be a hindrance. More than 2,000 years after God was nailed to a cross – “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? -- it still is more difficult for a rich man to pass easily into Heaven than it would be for a heavily-laden camel to pass through the Needle’s Eye, which was a Jerusalem gate so narrow that camels had to be unpacked before entering the holy city.

When Jesus said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, He really did imagine that, were His rule to be scrupulously observed, God would have the better of the bargain.

The Sermon on the Mount is full of blessings, punctuated here and there with rapturous curses.

“Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” – “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.”

“Blessed [are] ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed [are] ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh” – But “Woe unto you, ye that are full now! for ye shall hunger. Woe [unto you], ye that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.”

This is not the happiest view in the world of worldly men whom the world has festooned with honors and plaudits. Jesus prefers prophets unloved in their own countries to kings and the powerful of the earth. The worldly world of the New Testament is the Devil’s sandbox.

“Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you [from their company], and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice in that day, and leap [for joy]: for behold, your reward is great in Heaven; for in the same manner did their fathers unto the prophets.”

Between men’s purposes in time and God’s purposes in eternity, Soren Kierkegaard reminds us, there is an infinite, qualitative difference.

This severity and these reprobations are part of the fabric of Christianity, and it simply will not do to pretend they do not exist. Jesus asks the wealthy to give up their wealth and follow him because those fixated on wealth to the exclusion of spiritual matters – the true materialists -- are nailed to the world, as if on a cross. The Christian, wealthy or poor, is NOT to conform himself to the world. Acceptance or rejection by the world makes conformity easy or difficult. Those whom the world rejects are more likely to keep their character. Christians are to retain their “salt,” the Christian character that distinguishes them from the local stockbroker, the used car dealer, the well-nourished and overpromising politician, and -- may God save us from him -- the tax gatherer, generally considered in both the New and Old Testaments as the devil’s enabler (c.f.  Mark 2:15-17):

“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

Christians unconformed to the world and saved from it by the loving grace of God are, on the other hand, “the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”

The character of the modern world and the ancient world of Jesus’ time is exactly the same. If you allow it, worldly concerns – uninformed by the love of God -- will suck you in, grind you down, and spit you out as a spiritless “practical atheist,” a term employed by Jacques Maritain to designate inoffensive theists who “believe that they believe in God [and... perhaps believe in Him in their brains] but... in reality deny His existence by each one of their deeds” – in other words, salt-less Christians.

Christians are to be in the world but not “of” it, in order to -- and this is the part that will get you fed to a modern lion in a modern coliseum -- change the world.

So then, you want to be a Christian this Christmas, do you? Not much has changed over the past 2,000 years. Rome is still feeding Christians to lions. The more the world changes, the more it remains the same. But be not afraid, and this Christmas take joy in John, 16:33:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

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