Each Sunday in Lent we are sharing a short reflection written by leading Christian authors. This week's is by writer and Clergy Development Advisor Alan Bartlett.
Surely this is Jesus at his most attractive: wise, calming,a sage. We may hear this in our culture as sounding like some modern Western hippy lifestyle but, in our over-working, over-consuming pressurised world, it sounds remarkably attractive. But what happens if we read itmore carefully?
It could sound as if Jesus is offering a way to livewhich is dependent on a fatherly God who will providefor all our needs. But I wonder what this God willprovide? It may be beautiful and nutritious but is it alsolikely to be simple and unglamorous – other-worldly?Because part of what is being taught is a letting go ofthe values of ‘the world’ with its false glamour. Andthere is dependence on God, but it is not so much adependence that God will make everything tip-topin this world, as a confidence that if we give up wealth inthis world – ‘sell your possessions’ – we will be rewardedin heaven. If we work for the Kingdom now, we willgain the Kingdom now and in the life to come, butwithout perhaps the trappings of monarchy!
I hope I am not making this sound too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly use, making it sound too unattractive. But the truth is that few Christians live like this, actually selling their possessions so they havemoney to give away to the poor because they trust inGod’s Kingdom now. The example, of course, thatsprings to mind is St Francis, first selling his father’spossessions to feed the poor (but without his earthlyfather’s permission!), and then stripping himself inpublic as a sign of giving up all his wealth so that hecould follow Jesus literally. When I hear people talkof being fundamentalists or literalists or conservatives,I don’t see them being fundamentalist or literalist orconservative about this text . . . But I think Jesus meantit. The truth is that it is too hard a teaching for mostof us with families and homes and careers to followliterally. Even Francis’ Franciscans found utter povertytoo demanding. So perhaps we have to make do withrelativising it – ‘live simply that others may simplylive’ – but knowing we might not quite be getting thefierce radicality of Jesus’ own commitment to the costlyfreedom of his God’s Kingdom.
Do we like this God?
Alan Bartlett has been vicar of three churches around Durham City for nine years and is moving to become Clergy Development Advisor for Durham Diocese. He has degrees from the universities of Cambridge, Birmingham and Durham and has served in the North East since 1991.
Looking Through Jesus by Alan Bartlett is avaliable to order today.
March 5th, 2018 - Posted & Written by The Editor