– The Gospel According to Matthew 19:21-24 (ESV)
Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking, squealing gucci little piggy
–“Paranoid Android”, Radiohead
I remember reading about the “rich, young ruler” in Matthew 19 (incidentally, the chapter mentions nothing of him ruling anything; the truth is, it was what ruled over him that was more central to the issue) and never thought it would be autobiographical to a point. But, as consumers do, I tend to like my possessions – nice house, two cars, sweet subdivision, ad infinitum, ad nauseum – and more often than not, I don’t realize how much of a hold they want of my heart. I don’t think I’m alone. I think most of us “have great possessions.”
Like trying to nail a dive from the top platform, there is a higher degree of difficulty to call people to follow Jesus who see $20 in their hands as such a little amount at the mall but a huge sum when sitting in a pew. People who, as David Wells describes in his incredible book Above All Earthly Pow’rs, “have the ability to hope for what we want, shop where we want, buy what we want, study where we want, believe what we want, and treat religion as just another commodity, a product to be consumed.” (p. 77) Consumers want to be at the top of the depth chart. They want to call the shots. And why shouldn’t they? The pathos of the culture feeds that very appetite.
Then there is Jesus. Jesus, the One who extends his hand to every gucci little piggy saying, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mt. 16:24) Now his words about the rich young man (i.e., consumer) having much difficultly coming into the Kingdom make even more sense. The door to salvation has always been fastened with the handle of repentance; it just seems much more slippery upon the fingers of the rich young man and all the gucci piggies behind him. And yet there is no other way. The church can’t placate the piggies with the [false]gospel of better living and more of more. Yes, the crowds will grow but the disciples will diminish. And which is the church’s called to produce?
Will you indulge another Wells’ quote (I told you this guy’s good)?
It is very easy to build churches in which seekers congregate; it is very hard to build churches in which biblical faith is maturing into genuine discipleship. It is the difficulty of this task which has been lost in many seeker churches, which are meeting places for those who are searching spiritually but are not looking for that kind of faith which is spiritually tough and countercultural in a biblical way. (Ibid, p. 119)
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26)
The reason I came to faith in Jesus, the reason other gucci little piggies came to Jesus, the reason anyone comes to Jesus is when God steps in. You don’t have to be a Calvinist to believe this (it probably helps though), you just have to read through the New Testament and see time and time again when God must make the first move for us to do what he calls us to do (cf., I John 4:19). It takes God to love God.
That is something I need to be reminded of for at least two reasons:
First, I still struggle with being a piggy. I see the vestiges of consumerism in my life and realize how much of a stench it must be in God’s nostrils. Every day is a day of repentance. I’m terrible at following Jesus more times than I’d like to admit. That’s why God stepping in on my behalf and doing for me what I could never do for myself (and still can’t) is a very humbling, praiseworthy thing. Jesus, kill the piggy in me!
Secondly, even if the hardest people to come to Christ are consumers they have more than a good shot if God is behind it. As a matter of fact, if God is behind it, they will come (cf., John 6:39). So that leaves me in a very thankful place – thankful that God’s grace lit upon my life,
gave my fingers traction and action to turn the knob and still keeps me in that room today…and he does it for other gucci little piggies. I don’t know how many consumers I will see genuinely cross the line of faith in my life and in my church, but I pray that as many who come do so because the God of the Universe has done the impossible. And instead of bemoaning the fact that I live in a consumer-culture, I pray that I and my church will expend all our resources at reaching them (I live in consumer-ville) and will do so in a way that extends the call to salvation exactly as my Master would.
Calling all gucci little piggies…