Do You Love the Gift or the Giver?

A gift for youIn his book, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, Francis Chan famously asked, “Are we in love with God or just His stuff?” In a society that glorifies the prosperity gospel through shows like this one, it’s probably a fair question to ask.

But it also isn’t a new question that’s relevant to our culture only. About 1500 years ago, another Christian leader, Caesarius, Bishop of Arles, asked the same thing of his congregants. In its volume on the gospel of Mark, the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture quotes him as preaching the following: Continue reading Do You Love the Gift or the Giver?

Was Jesus an Angry Anti-Capitalist?

12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:12-13)

Due to the dispersion of the Jews throughout the ancient world by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, etc., by Jesus’ time Jerusalem would have been filled with all kinds of travelers and pilgrims at Passover. These travelers would have had foreign money or Roman money and might not have had adequate sacrifices to offer. From the 4 gospel accounts (Mt. 21:12-13; Mk. 11:15-19; Lk. 19:45-48; Jn. 2:14-16) and other historical sources, we can say that the following transactions were taking place within the temple walls (probably in the court of the Gentiles): people would enter the temple and exchange (for a fee) foreign and Roman coins for shekels to be used for offerings and the temple tax; they would then take their shekels and buy animals for the sacrifice (at a mark up appropriate with the fact that there was low supply and high demand).

Although Matthew transitions immediately from Jesus being welcomed with palm branches in verses 1-11 to him arriving at the temple in verse 12, we know from Mark’s account that Jesus actually left Jerusalem after the Triumphal Entry and spent the night in Bethany. It is when he returns to the city the next morning that he clears the temple out.

I’ve found that seemingly everybody has some familiarity with this story, even if they know little else about the gospels. I’ve heard these verses used (by both Christians and non-Christians alike) to condemn capitalism in general and anything resembling commerce on church premises specifically. I’ve also heard them used to excuse aggression and anger. I think each of these interpretations misses the point.

So what’s going on here? Before we talk about what Jesus was doing, let me explain what he was not doing. Continue reading Was Jesus an Angry Anti-Capitalist?

What Has Your Heart?

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:21-22)

A quick summary of the preceding context: a man asked Jesus what he must do to have eternal life, Jesus told him to keep the commandments, and the man replied that he had kept all of them and asked what else he is lacking.

Jesus then tells him that if he wants to be perfect, he must sell everything he has and give it to the poor and then follow him. Whoa. Continue reading What Has Your Heart?

How to Lose Your Soul

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:26)

I’m not sure our culture has completely grasped this verse. Even in the Church, I think we often attach the conditional “if” only to the “forfeits his soul” part of Jesus’ first question. It’s like we think that Jesus isn’t warning us about trying to gain the whole world; he’s just warning us about losing our soul in the process. We believe that there must be a “Christian” way to gain the whole world, where we can have power, prosperity, and possessions while still retaining our soul.

The more I consider this passage, however, the more I am convinced that this just isn’t true. The word “forfeit” that Jesus uses here has the idea of a fine or a penalty. I don’t think Jesus is saying that there is a danger of losing one’s soul when one pursues the whole world. He’s saying that the penalty for pursuing the world is one’s soul. Continue reading How to Lose Your Soul