Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
Text: Mark 10. 17-31 "Economic Crunch Time"
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Share together stories of times of sacrifice in terms of money and possessions as a consequence of being disciples of Jesus.
A Window on the Text
One of the issues which surfaced regularly in the life of the early Christian communities was the place of worldly wealth and possessions in relation to the kingdom of God and shared life together. This question continues to be debated by Christians to this day.
This week’s passage about the place of wealth and the wealthy comes in a section of Mark’s gospel which outlines life and relationships in the Christian households, tackling key aspects of Christian discipleship.
A wealthy man comes and asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life (v 17 - it is possible that his wealth was inherited). Clearly, keeping the Law itself is inadequate in Jesus’ eyes because it is possible to meet the requirements of the Law and yet evade its intention. Jesus identifies the key issue here – failure to redistribute wealth so that the needs of the poor are met. This man’s lack of compassion in the face of human need is identified as the barrier to entry into eternal life. Jesus called him to repent which meant selling his possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor. The notion of a camel going through the eye of a needle is laughable but makes the point well – undistributed accumulated wealth is an insurmountable barrier to entry into the way of life that Jesus is calling his followers to embrace.
Mark’s Jesus upturns the traditional conventions regarding wealth in his day and goes way beyond the demands of the Jewish Law. The understanding that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing is set aside. What matters is how the wealth and the power that goes with it are used.
In answer to Peter’s question about the sacrifices that he and his fellow disciples had made (v28), Jesus says that they will not go unnoticed.
Responding as a community
(chose which questions you wish to address)
- Years ago, in an address to the Church of Scotland General Assembly which journalists called the Sermon on the Mound, Margaret Thatcher offered a justification for capitalism and the market economy. She used a quote (source not given) that ‘Christianity is about spiritual redemption not social reform’. To what extent do you think Jesus’ words about wealth, in this and other passages, challenge our global economic system?
- What is the connection between wealth and salvation? In answering this consider the meaning of the word salvation. Is the gaining of eternal life the same as gaining entry to heaven?
- Walter Wink says the issue is not, “What must I do in order to secure my salvation?” but rather, “What does God require of me in response to the needs of others?” It is not, “How can I be virtuous?” But “How can I participate in the struggle of the oppressed for a more just world?” Do you agree?
- Walter Brueggemann says that in today’s world we are witnessing the shrivelling of the human spirit by the pressures of consumerism; we are watching the failure of the communal infrastructure and the notion of the public transposed into the notion of market. The current banking crisis, driven very much by greed, nearly brought the global financial system to its knees. The poorest in the world have suffered most. Should Christians be actively seeking an alternative economics more in keeping with Jesus’ vision? If so, what and how might it be expressed?
- How often do we, like Peter, think about our faith choices in terms of what we are going to get out of it in the end?
Focus on praying for those who are suffering most from the financial downturn.
A prayer to use together in the group
May God bless us with discomfort
at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
so that we may live deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that we may work for economic justice for all people.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer
from pain, hunger, homelessness and rejection,
so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them
and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with enough foolishness
to believe that we can make a difference in the world
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.
(From Education for Justice - www.educationforjustice.org)
- The speech of Margaret Thatcher to the Church of Scotland General Assembly can be found at http://www.margaretthatcher.org/Speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=107246. After the speech, the Moderator of the General Assembly, Dr James Whyte, presented Mrs Thatcher with some books as a momento of her visit made up of recent church reports on poverty, housing and a fair social benefit system, which some interpreted as a gentle rebuke.
- On ‘the eye of a needle’ saying see http://www.biblicalhebrew.com/nt/camelneedle.htm. Some say that the Greek word for ‘rope’ (kamilos) was mistranslated in the Latin translation as ‘camel’ (kamelos).
- For some very practical ideas about the expression of an alternative economic vision see The New Economics Foundation website at http://www.neweconomics.org/gen. They talk of a triple crunch Financial meltdown, soaring food and energy bills,high oil prices,accelerating climate change. The global economy faces a ‘triple crunch’ which could develop into a perfect storm to rival or surpass the Great Depression. Time is short. There could be only100 monthsor less from August 2008 to take meaningful action on climate change. Current responses are not getting to the root of the problem. When politicians and the market fail us, and the world slips further into financial and environmental freefall, a panel of experts brought together by nef andthe Guardian asked: do we need aGreen New Deal? NEF equip communities with the tools needed to create the local economy that people want. Whoever we are, we can have a vital role in shaping the local economy. The tools they use include: mobilising local resources, engaging all sectors in economic renewal, and inspiring action. Go to http://www.neweconomics.org/gen/tools_top.aspx.
See also the Jubilee Research website at http://www.jubileeresearch.org, the successor to the Jubilee
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion