April 18, 2018
When I consider what Jesus has to say to the 1% of the world, I think about the Jesus-followers across history who warned about the dangers of power and wealth. Today we tend to assume that power and wealth provide security, the opposite of danger. Yet, along with Jesus, the Christian tradition teaches that it’s not that simple. Here are two examples:
John Chrysostom, a fiery preacher in the 300’s in the capital of the Roman Empire, challenged the suspicions that many of his wealthy parishioners had about the poor. He says his parishioners are too quick to accuse those asking for help of “being idle” or “not willing to work.” Or, he says, the well-off refuse to share their resources because the needy are “just pretending they have need in order to get more than they deserve.” He closes his sermon with “We have not been made judges into other’s lives, because then we would have compassion on no one. . . Inquire, if you will, how Abraham showed hospitality towards all who came to him (Genesis 18). If he had been over-curious about those who fled to him for refuge, he would not have ‘entertained angels.’” *
Another story is told about a bishop in the 700’s who spent the day going through the city giving out alms to the poor. In the afternoon, as he reached into his bag to give coins to a bedraggled man with an outstretched hand, the bishop’s assistant stopped the bishop and took him aside. “This man is trying to deceive you! You gave money to this same man in different clothes this morning on another street corner. He has changed his garments and rushed here to trick you into giving him an extra alms portion that should go to someone else!” The bishop replied, “Do not fear. I am happy to give, for it may be my Lord Jesus, coming to me as a stranger!”
These stories illustrate Jesus’ message that power and wealth can become hiding places from God, where we cling to false security with closed hands and hearts. It does not have to be so! The Jesus Way is an open-handed, open-hearted life where we root our security in the One who is the Source of Life.
* adapted from Amy Oden, And You Welcomed Me: Sourcebook on Hospitality in Early Christianity, Abingdon Press, 2001.
Dr. Amy Oden
Dr. Amy Oden is Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at Saint Paul School of Theology at OCU. Teaching is her calling, and she looks forward to every day with students. Her latest book (Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness, Abingdon Press, 2017) traces ancient mindfulness practice for Christians today.