How the Camel Found the Gospel
Aug 30, 2013 1754
I was recently asked by a friend about an article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald by Ross Gittins about the Gospel and economics. You can read the article here: http://www.smh.com.au/business/an-easter-tale-of-sabbath-economics-20120408-1wjbc.html#ixzz2cNSSFuHd
Gittins is an economic journalist, and like most of what he writes, whether or not you agree with what he has to say, this is an excellent article. In it, Gittins presents the kingdom of God in economic terms… and only in economic terms. He is commenting on the words of Jesus to the rich young man in Luke 18:24–25: “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’” Gittins says that here, “Jesus is simply saying the kingdom of God is a social condition in which there are no rich and poor. So, by definition, the rich cannot enter – not with their wealth intact.”
Is it true that the kingdom of God just a social condition? Is it true that the rich cannot enter it with their wealth intact? Of course these questions are closely related to the Gospel, since the Gospel is the proclamation of the kingdom of God, so Jesus often refers to it as the “gospel of the kingdom.”
Although Gittins warns us that we should not spiritualise the parables, he is following a secular way of thinking that completely separates and divorces forever the spiritual life from the material life. In this way of thinking, the only thing that has true universal value is the material. The spiritual may be important for you, but ultimately it has nothing to do with the material. But the parables of Jesus are precisely the use of material stories to teach spiritual truth. But not spiritual truth that makes you feel good; they teach spiritual truth that transforms the world.
Valuing the material above the spiritual is nothing new. The message of Jesus turns this kind of thinking on its head. In vv 29–30 of the same chapter, Jesus also said that “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” This provides some context for Jesus’ story of the camel, the needle, and the rich man. If you take this literally, then you must say that Jesus is advocating the complete breakup of families and breakdown of human society. But this is not what Jesus is talking about at all. He is teaching that the kingdom of God is about the priorities of the heart; it is about loving the kingdom above all else.
In Jesus’ words about the rich entering the kingdom of God, he is talking about the priorities of the heart (Luke 12:34). If the priority of your heart is money, then Jesus is saying that it may be that you may have what you desire, but you will never see the kingdom. Jesus is saying that you don’t get into the kingdom by your bank account, but by your faith account – even faith like a mustard seed. And faith means that you know that everything you are and everything you have is his and not yours, so you will know how to invest your life and all that you have in the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The transformed heart is the catalyst to a transformed world. Certainly many of the greatest social reforms in history, such as the abolition of slavery in large parts of the world, have been motivated by the message of the Gospel. But let’s not get the cart before the horse. The “heart gospel” must come before the “social gospel.” The message of Jesus was always “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:15). The heart comes before the life; the heart must be changed before anything about the life changes. The only thing that can transform the world is the grace of Jesus Christ in the hearts of men and women.
Will the rich enter into the kingdom of God? Jesus doesn’t say they can’t; he says it is difficult, because wealth is, and always has been, a great temptation. It is just so easy to replace grace of Jesus Christ in the heart with the love of money. Jesus taught that it is the abundance of the heart that makes the mouth to speak (Matt. 12:34)… and, I would add, the hands to do business, to invest, and to give. Remember the parable of the talents (Matt 25:13–40).
I praise God for all the Christian ministries who are fighting for social and economic justice. We are all called to do the work of the kingdom in different ways. We each have our ministry, given to us by God. But let’s remember that the message of the Gospel is not in essence a political message and it is not a social message. It is the proclamation that we have been fully reconciled with God by the blood of Jesus Christ. Undeniably this has social implications, and perhaps I would even venture to say, in some cases political implications. But the heart gospel must go before the social gospel. The kingdom of Jesus Christ is in this world, but is ultimately not of this world.
I’d love to hear what you think…?