The Great Role Reversal

28ae36946daf05c6172d09cad9686435-2Every married couple has to figure it out.

At the end of a long day when you’re both exhausted, it’s better to “divide and conquer.” Who will cook and who will wash the dishes?

Once in a while, it’s helpful to trade places. Do you normally cook? Tonight, clean up instead. If you typically wash the dishes, try your hand at cooking. Besides increasing versatility, role reversals let us walk in another’s shoes. Nothing fosters empathy more effectively.

Jesus modeled the Great Role Reversal. Paul captured this well:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9, NIV).

Christ, the Eternal Word, identified with us by becoming one of us. God put on skin. His name was Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:14-31) exemplifies role reversal. A man of wealth lived in luxury, oblivious to the plight of Lazarus, a sickly and hungry beggar.

[Note the subtle role reversal. Normally, everyone knows the name of a rich person, and poor people remain nameless. In Jesus’ story, the poor man has a name, and the rich man is nameless. Things work differently in God’s Kingdom!]

Jesus said that Lazarus “longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table” (v. 21, CEB). He lay at the pitiless rich man’s gate, where at least the dogs came and licked the poor man’s sores.

The rich man never saw the role reversal coming.

After death, Lazarus was comforted, carrried to Abraham’s side by angels (v. 22). There he found solace, while the rich man – who had also died – was tormented in the flames.  During their life on earth, Lazarus had longed for crumbs from the rich man’s table. Now, the tables are turned, and the rich man longs for a drop of water from Lazarus (v. 24). Abraham denies the request, reminding the rich man:

Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain (v. 25, CEB).

Likwise, at the close of a different parable about the coming Kingdom, Jesus concluded: “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last” (Matthew 20:16, NLT).

But I wonder:

Why do we need to wait until the end of time to live the Great Role Reversal?

How much closer to reflecting the Kingdom of God would our world be if those who bear Christ’s name (Christians) were willing to switch things up now?

 

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Two street children in Antananarivo, Madagascar, circa 2010

 

Gavin Rogers, a pastor from San Antonio, Texas, joined a caravan of Honduran immigrants that has been making its way north through Mexico. For five days, he chronicled the kindness and humanity he witnessed along the exhausting path. Rogers concluded: “The only Christian response to immigration is ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” He learned by coming close to people that every need has a name.

Stories like that of Lazarus or pastor Rogers and the Honduran immigrants challenge me. Unlike the rich man, I am not wealthy, yet am I not also attached to my “creature comforts”? How might God be calling me to step into the shoes of another, to journey alongside them, to see things from their point-of-view?

Jesus was the master of the Great Role Reversal. May we together learn to follow in his ways.

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Image credit: pngtree.com

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Begging bread? God’s promise to the righteous in Psalm 37:25

Two city street children in Antananarivo, Madagascar
Two city street children begging in Antananarivo, Madagascar

It’s a sweeping statement from King David: “I have been young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25, NRSV).

What did David mean?

The context of the passage quoted helps us understand what David was saying. Psalm 37 contrasts the lot of the “wicked” with the “righteous” or the “blameless.” Do the wicked prosper? Only temporarily, affirms David. “The LORD laughs at the wicked, for he sees their day is coming” (v.13). The “arms” of the wicked shall be “broken” (v.17). Like a pasture can have “glory” for a time, so the wicked may as well, but they will “vanish” like smoke (v.20). They shall be “cut off” (v.22).

If the wicked won’t endure, the opposite is true for the righteous. They shall “inherit the land” (v.22). Even in famine they will have “abundance” (v.20). They will “give liberally” and be able to lend, their children becoming a blessing (v.26).

Two things come to mind when reflecting on this passage:

1. Redemption and lift – Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21, NIV). If you want to determine what a person values – where their “heart” is – look at how she spends her money. Helen had been a chain smoker for years. When she came to Christ, God broke her desire for cigarettes. “Pastor,” she said, “the money I would have spent on cigarettes, I’m going to put into my change purse.” A year later, Helen had enough for a trip to Hawaii. When money is no longer going down the drain at the neighborhood bar or being wasted on gambling, it’s now available for the family budget. Christians call this “redemption and lift.” God re-orients our value system, meaning some of the leaks in our financial boat get plugged.

2. The solidarity of the community of faith – I can’t read Psalm 37 without thinking about Acts 2:44-47 (NRSV):

All who believed were together and had everything in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day as they spent much time together in the Temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

When I was in high school, our church youth group took a trip to one of the colleges sponsored by our denomination. For three days, we competed in sports and talent competitions. Before dinner one night, without thinking, I slipped my wallet into the pocket of my jacket, then hung the jacket on the coat rack outside the cafeteria. After dinner, my heart sank when I realized my wallet (and with it the $ 50.00 inside that I’d carefully saved up for the trip) had been stolen. Later that night back at the hotel, there was a knock on the door. Roger, my youth pastor, came in and handed me an envelope. I opened it up, and inside was $ 50.00. I couldn’t believe it! Had he found my money? “No,” he said. “But when I told the others in the youth group about your loss, they all wanted to take up a collection for you.” That generous gift of solidarity meant so much to me! I felt loved.

How do we as a church measure up to Acts 2:44-47?  Are there practical ways that we could help each other? If the children of the righteous avoid begging bread, it will be because the community of faith has taken care of her own, seeing needs in the Body and responding in Christlike ways. Instead of making loans to each other – loans that cause division when repayment is delayed – how about if we simply say:

I’m giving you this small amount, but it’s not a loan. It’s a gift. You don’t have to pay it back to me, and let’s never speak of it again. All I ask is that you keep your eyes open, and if one day you see someone else in the church who has a similar need, give to them with the same simple conditions.

The “pay it forward” concept is powerful. As we exercise it inside and outside the church, it will commend the Gospel to those who are not yet followers of Christ.

King David rejoiced that he had never seen the children of the righteous having to beg for bread. If this was true, then surely it was not accidental. Putting God at the center of our lives means that wasteful practices will wither away. A holy frugality will take its place. Likewise, we cannot love God without loving our neighbor (1 John 4:20), whether that neighbor is already or not yet part of the community of Christian faith. Let’s pray that God will give us eyes to see like God sees and hands to do what God wants us to do.

Stanley Hauerwas and The Peaceable Kingdom: Part 4 of 4

“You can be committed to the Church but not committed to Christ, but you cannot be committed to Christ and not committed to the Church.” So said Joel Osteen.

Exactly why the church is important is unclear from Pastor Osteen’s quote. Such is not the case for Stanley Hauerwas. Like Osteen, he sees a large place for the church, but Hauerwas ties it directly to how we develop Christian ethics, particularly the ethic of non-violence.

In previous posts, we examined ideas from Chapters 1-6 of Hauerwas’ The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (Notre Dame, 1983). In this final essay, we turn to two ideas gleaned from Chapters 7-8, namely, the role of the Church in forging a Christian ethic and the “grace of doing one thing.”

Christian community and moral convictions

In earlier chapters, Stanley Hauerwas insisted that the Peaceable Kingdom was not about just any ethic, but the Christian ethic. The Christian ethic – in distinction from ethics that could be formed in other communities – is hammered out in a community with a unique story. The Christian community was brought into being by reflecting upon the story of Israel (Old Testament) and the life of Christ (New Testament) and continues to embody the ramifications of those stories. This narrative element is crucial in understanding Hauerwas’ methodology. The Christian ethic is modeled in positive ways by the life of the community, through the actions of individuals in the context of the group.  As an example, Hauerwas introduces the topic of abortion, observing about the positive modeling of community (p. 119):

…you learn about the value of life, and in particular human life that comes in the form of our children, because your community and your parents acting on behalf of your community, do not practice abortion. Therefore the negative prohibitions of a community though they often appear to apply to anyone because of their minimal character (e.g., do not murder) in fact gain their intelligibility from that community’s more substantive and positive practices. Prohibitions are the markers for the outer limits of the communal self-understandings. In short, they tell us that if we do this or no longer disapprove of that, we will no longer be living out the tradition that originally formed us.

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