Posted by: Philip Rushton | December 28, 2010

Reading the Bible with the Affluent? How the Gospel speaks to those who are well-off.

Since I own a car I am in the top 8% of the most wealthy people in the world. Though it might seem odd to us in the west, the truth is that 92% of the citizens of the world do not own a car.

I am very grateful that I am so well off. I am thankful that I have been spared from the struggles of poverty. Yet, I am also a bit uncomfortable with my affluence in light of what I read in scripture. What has been troubling me lately is how to reconcile being well off with being a part of God’s kingdom.

This angst is rooted in the fact that the Bible seems to express that the kingdom belongs to the poor. In Luke 6, for example, Jesus pronounces blessed those who are poor and hungry for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, while he pronounces woes on the rich and the well fed. In fact Catholic social doctrine employs the phrase, “God’s preferential option for the poor.” This theological term emphasizes that God’s priority in salvation history is to rescue the poor and needy.

My professor at Regent wrote a book titled Reading the Bible With the Damned, where he explains how his reading of scripture with the poor opened up the text in profound ways. I highly recommend this book! However, the question I’m struggling with today is how are we supposed to read the Bible with the affluent? What do we do with texts like Luke 6 when we live in comfort and wealth? What are we supposed to do with our affluence?

To answer this question I found some helpful insights from Walter Brueggeman. Brueggeman is considered one of the most important contemporary biblical scholars. In his book Peace, he writes, “people who are well-off have very different perceptions of life and a very different theological agenda from those who must worry about survival. Both are in the Bible, and while church theology has taken the Bible’s theology of survival seriously, it has been less perceptive about the Bible’s theology of management and celebration.

What Brueggeman points out is that there is an aspect of the Biblical story that is geared towards those who are well-off. While the poor receive a message of deliverance, the well-off receive a call towards gratitude and stewardship. As Albert Hsu summarizes, “Not only do we affirm that God will make the wrong things right, we also affirm that much is right with the world already, and God entrusts us to extend those good creational blessings to others.”

We see both aspects of this good news in the story of Israel. When they were enslaved in Egypt they received the good news of deliverance. Later, however, when they are an established nation, they are called to be an instrument of justice and shalom. This was the plan from the get go. When God first called Abram he said, “I will make you into a great nation and will bless you.” However, God concludes by saying that the purpose of this is so that, “all the people of the earth will be blessed through you.” The message to the affluent, then, is to be a blessing.

The challenge for those of us who are affluent is to respond to this call towards celebration and management. We are not called to feel guilt and exclusion from God’s plan, (though we must heed Jesus warning that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven – Luke 18:24, and we must not be idolatrous of our money – Luke 12). Our calling is to be good stewards of what we have been given so that we can participate in God’s plan to bring shalom to our world. For some of us this means we will give all away and live in solidarity with the poor; for others it will mean that we will use our income and our resources to help those in need.

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