ma'am? on!

so i can't help poaching from the excellent posts of john's and andy's. forgive me. they've both been great discussions and i feel like i've learned a lot. One thing that andy emphasized that i'd like to expand upon is the issue of power/privilage that goes along with money/wealth/mammon, etc. There's no doubt that all of us struggle with wanting more, "needing" every product or larger house or faster car (or computer) that comes on the market. There's no doubt that this is a very serious issue--one that Jesus spent more time talking about than, say, homosexuality or prayer in schools (or the prayer of homosexuals in schools). And yet, to leave it there as an individual thing--as in Man, I'd better straighten up and get out of this dependence upon stuff--underemphasizes some of the 1st century context of the word and, therefore implications of Mammon for the Church today. Many English-translation commentaries leave "mammon" as "riches" or wealth or whatever. Then they quickly emphasize that the NT uses riches many times without referring to them as a corrupting influence. Stuff is just stuff, in other words. We shouldn't feel bad for owning things. But if we think of this concept in the way that the first century gospel writers likely did, then we have to realize that the accumulation of things is only part of the story. In fact, if we think about the context of the word, it's uncertain that Jesus' audience would have been the types of people who accumulate goods the way that those of us in consumer cultures do. That concept would not have translated to a Near Eastern audience that typically knew more poverty than wealth. Couple that with other passages of scripture that deal with externally recognized wealth, like the not-often-cited passage in James 2 and we have something a little different than a strict "cash cow" type of Mammon:
1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself,"[a] you are doing right. 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.
Here James seems to be addressing something that he saw in the early church that duplicated practices in contemporary synagogues. Christians were heaping attention on the man with power and influence. Sure he had nice rings and clothes. But in the ancient Near East, this meant he was likely not simply a successful doctor or lawyer, accountant or businessman with a stacked 401k and a cushy stock portfolio, but a man who could get things done politically and socially. This guy represented worldly power and influence (fine stuff came along with that). Now this broader concept seems more authentically "Mammon." ... Cutting to the chase (though a lot more careful argument should be made here): it is easy to see our accumulated possessions and bemoan our proclivity to follow this false god, Mammon. As well we should. It's much harder to critique our tendencies to value the valuable, to love the lovable, to embrace those that are going places. Our worship bands highlight the talented; our favorite Christians are the ones that are also presidents and magistrates; we like having big donors, successful speakers, influential people sitting in the front row of our church services or standing on the stage. We feel less comfortable latching on to those that provide little: that can't entertain, that are socially awkward, that can't carry a tune, that won't balance their checkbooks. Mammon is not just having stuff or wanting more of it. It's being somebody, in the eyes of the world. This is something that Lewis emphasized in Screwtape Letters. Somebodies don't have time for nobodies. They don't create space for those that aren't cool like them. They don't hang out with the least, last, lost. Widows and orphans mean little to somebodies. And the sad thing in my experience is that the Church is full of both types of people--lots of somebodies and lots of nobodies; and it rarely addresses this. Instead, the Church often allows people to privately fret over their individualized enslavement to Mammon (in this case, of only the "cash cow" variety) while not explicitly drawing attention to itself as the paramount Body of Nobodies. In Christ there is no slave or free; no rich or poor; no male or female. This is radical, turn the world upside-down, what-are-you-some-kind-of-communist-pinko talk here. It's not just giving 10% of your income. It's changing where you live; who you hang with; what kind of clothes you wear and what kind of car you drive. It's practicing hospitality. It's being not cool. I think good church is happening when the nobodies reach out to the somebodies and the somebodies realize that, in Christ, they're nobodies too.


Blogger mommy zabs said...

"I think good church is happening when the nobodies reach out to the somebodies and the somebodies realize that, in Christ, they're nobodies too."

I like that last line a lot.

1/13/2006 2:27 PM  

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