June 7, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 3:10-14.
And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
These verses don’t appear in any of the other gospels. There are two other incidents in Luke’s gospel in which this question is posed. What should I do to inherit eternal life? These are asked of Jesus, though. It comes up three times in Acts. Obviously, this was an important question for Luke, a question that each of us must ask and answer for himself in the context of the gospels. In all these instances both John and Jesus told people to have a selfless, sacrificing concern for the disadvantaged and also to perform their jobs in a just, fair manner. Compassion and justice. That’s what would earn them eternal life.
And if I were to have asked John what I should do, what would he have answered? What should I do to produce good fruit? What am I doing that I should stop? What do I do that harms others or denies them something they need? I’m really thinking hard about this. I think it’s my time. I like a lot of time to myself; I’m an introvert who derives energy from within myself. My mother- and father-in-law live with us. They are extroverts who get their energy from others. You can see the problem. What do I have that they need? My time and attention. It’s the hardest thing in the world for me to be generous with. So, John would have told me to give them more of my time and attention. It’s pretty simple and direct. It also demands that I repent, that I change my ways. If I want eternal life, I am required to give what I have — which is from God — from compassion and a sense of fairness.
Our journey toward eternal life is a shared experience, a collective goal. We are to help one another on the way, sharing what we have and the spiritual gifts that we have been given by our creator. Love one another. That’s a pretty simple command, easy to keep in mind. It is in loving each other that we show our love for God. We sure fight against that, though, or at least I do. It was reported in today’s newspaper that American households have regained the wealth that was lost in the Great Recession. Good news, right? Greater financial security, sense of well being, opportunities. Well, not quite. Most of the gain has been in stock prices. Eighty percent of stocks are owned by the wealthiest ten percent of people. That means that the average household has only recouped 63 percent of the wealth it had in 2007. In the same newspaper it was also reported that the Kansas Board of Regents had approved substantial increases in tuition at all state universities because of budget cuts by the Legislature. Fewer lower-and middle-class students will be able to attend college and those who do will have to finance it with burdensome loans. Also in today’s newspaper was an article reporting that Stafford student loan rates are set to double this summer because the people we elect to Congress can’t agree that this is a critical issue for disadvantaged students who want a chance to improve their lives through education.
Still, we consider ourselves a Christian nation. I don’t think John or Jesus would agree with that assessment. What about me? Unless I willingly give my in-laws more of my time and attention, Jesus may not agree with my self-assessment as a Christian either. If it weren’t so true, it would be funny but I’m not laughing.