june 28, 2000

Remembering my thoughts from when I started walking five years ago (about what I expected for my life), I went back to read those old journal entries. Here's a section that seems like a good synopsis:

Christ said "Follow me." He offered us the example of his earthly--very human--life, as well as his teaching. Much is obvious about his life: his compassion, self-sacrifice, humility, fearlessness. And these are all manifestations of the love of God that he clearly displayed. But one aspect of that love, a very big and challenging one, is often overlooked. It is obvious, and stands in marked contrast to the worldly practices of modern society, but--perhaps because it is such a challenging contrast--we do not see it. I think it is best summarized in the directions Jesus gave to his disciples as he sent them out: "You received without paying, give without pay."(Mt 10.8) Freely you have received, freely give. That is such a basic truth of love that it is assumed without question in our love-relationships: parent-child, husband-wife, brother-sister. If those we love are in need, we give to them of what we have, without any expectation of restitution. The disciples lived this, following Jesus' example. They realized that God had been overwhelmingly generous with them and had sent them to love their neighbor. Generosity and love were to be the standards of all interactions with others.

But the world's standards, even in 'Christian' nations, are far different. Almost all human interaction is governed by the laws of business; we constantly strike 'deals' with one another. Only our closest family and friends (those we really love?) are exempt. The majority of human encounters--at least for anyone who spends the large part of their day at work or school--are limited by the other person's ability to 'pay.' Think of the boss-employee relationship, customer-merchant, public servant-taxpayer. Do these people act towards the other based on love? We'd like to think so. But it's difficult to accept this given the fact that if the 'other' did not have the money to pay, the employee/merchant/public servant would not provide their services. Then the 'other' would be to them as a stranger. Is this love? It is certainly not how Jesus lived.

But how can we 'give freely' in this world, given that society does not honor such a standard? Jesus, as well as many of his followers, lived on the generosity of others. Is that the only way? Perhaps not. But following the implications of 'give freely' leads to very few alternatives. One who gives without demanding payment (or even accepting only voluntary donations, which amounts to the same as begging, almost) is likely to be put 'out of business.' They will probably be taken advantage of and will not receive the money they need to own property and acquire food and shelter. One who gives freely will probably discover that many others will not respond in kind. Many people face this reality and conclude that Jesus' ideal of love ('love thy neighbor'--meaning even the stranger, as in 'The Good Samaritan') is impossible to live, at least in our time. I agree that it may not be possible to give freely and own property or have a stable income. But that does not mean it cannot be lived. Jesus still says "Follow me." What 'give freely' does seem to imply is a life of radical faith. It means that I will give to others and not demand payment, recognizing that that will leave me completely dependent on their generosity for my own survival. I have to hope that someone will love me and give freely to me. But this is exactly how Jesus lived: "the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head."(Mt 8.20) "Do not be anxious about what you will eat or drink... for your heavenly Father knows you need them."(Mt 6.25-33) Jesus' life demonstrated the faith in God that he preached. He said: Love your neighbor, and trust in God. That does not mean we will not suffer if we follow him in this way; the disciple is not above the master, and Jesus suffered. But it does describe the pure and holy life of Jesus, which he offered to us as an example. An example of love.

...I am convinced that 'give freely' is a crucial part of Jesus' way of Love. He taught it and lived it--and he bore the consequences of it. It was part of his challenge to the established order, which wanted to keep people subjugated in fear, slaves to the 'necessity' of a wage, not liberated by faith, freely serving one another in love. And so that established order--the 'kingdoms of the world'--retaliated. Just as the world will retaliate today. I believe in the love in people's hearts. I hope in that love. But I also expect that if I follow Jesus and give freely, I will live a life of poverty. I will suffer hunger and cold. I will be despised by some. But so was Jesus. And, especially in the New Testament, the poor are never held in contempt by God; they are the beloved of God. In the best of the Christian tradition, this has been recognized and the poor, especially those who choose poverty for the sake of the gospel, are loved dearly. Also, it is good to be poor, in the sense of minimal needs--simple sustenance--so as to better demonstrate faith, to encourage humility, and to minimize the burden on others. I do not ask another to 'freely give' me security or a salary, only daily bread. I expect to stay poor and am happy to do so, if any might benefit from it. But I see that such poverty (and all the insecurity that goes with it) are inevitable if I attempt to live like Jesus in this sinful world. Am I surprised? The disciple is not greater than the master, and this was exactly how the most perfect Lover lived his life. I see also that his itinerancy, his wandering, also minimized the burden he placed on any one person or family, while also making him available to many. I don't know if this is the only way to live such love as Jesus' in this world. But the world doesn't offer many other options. And this was the way that Jesus chose when he walked among us. I am ever more in awe at the beauty of his example.

...the sinful world "pushes" Jesus' followers towards a life of poverty and exile, the life of persecution that Jesus promised his followers, a life like his own, a life very much like the pilgrimage I have described before. Yet it doesn't seem to be a life that anyone is pushed into. The world offers so many other options... if only the person will consent. If only the follower of Jesus will consent to accept the world's ways--to abandon 'give freely,' for instance, or at least relegate those divine words to occasional, isolated acts of 'charity'--in other words, to cease to follow Jesus, at least for a moment. The world offers many options for security, comfort, stability, even an honored place among the honored. Security, society, and silk sheets, I call it. In this, the world does not push but beckons--just as the devil beckoned Jesus to take up the scepter of "all the kingdoms of the world." But Jesus did not worship the devil. So also, his followers must decline what the world has so generously offered--if the follower will only... stop following. This is no needless asceticism. It seems to be a choice for poverty, for suffering, but it is really a simple choice to follow Jesus, rejecting what Jesus rejected, because of the terms under which it is offered. In this way the world 'pushes' the follower of Jesus out, toward poverty and exile. And once the follower follows Jesus out, then the world, who was so generous and inviting before, is more than willing to heap scorn and hatred on the follower. Just as it did to Jesus. The disciple is not above the master.

But God also 'pushes' the follower of Jesus towards poverty and exile, though in a vastly different way. Not as a temptation, or out of sadism, but out of love. This push is also on account of the sinfulness of the world, but it is not a product of sin. It is God's loving response to our lostness, our confusion, our rebellion. To people in such a state, humility, poverty, generosity, vulnerability, trust, self-sacrifice, are the way of love. These demonstrate God's willingness to suffer for our sin, his willingness to endure our hatred so that we may repent of it, turn, and be forgiven. Not only Jesus' words, but also his life of poverty, exile, wandering, purely preached the gospel of God's love to this sinful world. And those who follow him are also inspired by God's love. That love 'pushes' Jesus' followers to preach the gospel with their lives as Christ did, to be the Body of Christ, incarnating God's call to the world. Jesus incarnated that perfectly. And his life was poverty and exile.

It still is.