This past Sunday I preached a portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus instructs his followers to do their giving, praying, and fasting in secret. As I was preparing, I was struck by how reckoning with my own privilege continues to allow me to read passages like this one with new eyes. Previously I have been in touch with the fact that Jesus was teaching his disciples how to live in this passage, but I totally missed that he was also confronting the religious racket of his day.
The practices he names specifically had each been co-opted into a “power piety” that favored the privileged and further marginalized the disadvantaged. Almsgiving favored the wealthy and excluded the poor. Praying favored the well-educated and the Jerusalem elite while further excluding those who were uneducated and those who were lacking direct access to the temple. Fasting favored the well-fed and excluded those who are truly praying for their daily bread.
I felt as if this confrontation of power in the text was staring me in the face all week. I continue to be uncomfortable as I consider and reckon with where I have benefited from or been complicit in our modern power structures that continue to further marginalize the disadvantaged. In commenting on this passage, Stanley Hauerwas says something to the effect of “to be rich and to be a follower of Jesus is to have a problem.”
Most of us probably don’t consider ourselves rich, but for the most part we are doing alright. Compared to the crowd he was addressing in the Sermon on the Mount most of us have an unimaginable amount of security, and, yes, wealth. From an American perspective, this security and stability is unquestionably a good thing; however, when I sit with the teachings of Jesus, I begin to question whether or not it is good.
This questioning leaves me uncomfortable and uneasy. It is precisely this type of tension that I believe we are called to as the Body of Christ. It is an opportunity for us to wrestle with and meditate on Jesus’ teachings. It is an opportunity to consider how we can leverage our privilege on behalf of those less well-off than us. It is an opportunity for us to be led by the Holy Spirit. Most directly, it is an opportunity for us to actively submit our will to the lordship of Christ.
May God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, guide us into this tension and continue forming us into a community that can bear one another’s burdens.