February 11, 2008

the good news v. the good life

The Radical Living community has a publication called, Agape Times. Below is the article that I wrote for the most recent edition:
The Good News v. The Good Life


He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Luke 4:16-21 (NIV)

In the fourth chapter of Luke we see Jesus begin his ministry. One Sabbath day, Jesus stood up in a synagogue in Nazareth and read from the ancient Scriptures announcing "good news to the poor." But what was this "good news"? The passage Jesus read was from Isaiah 61 but was also a reference to the Jubilee laws God gave Israel in Leviticus. Jubilee laws were God's way of renewing and re-balancing the collective lives of God's people. In a Jubilee year, debts were forgiven and land was returned to it's original owner so that the balance of wealth was redistributed among all the people, land was allowed to go fallow so that it might renew itself from years of crop production, and prisoners were set free and given another chance at being a productive part of society. This announcement was certainly good news for the poor in Israel!

But is that what you thought Jesus' good news was? For many Christians in the U.S., we have boiled Jesus' message of good news down to "Four Spiritual Laws". But this interpretation of the good news seems quite short sighted in light of Luke 4. Maybe we are more comfortable with a simplified and over-spiritualized version of the good news. For certain, this will ensure that the good news won't effect the good life! But what is the good life anymore? The "American Dream" has become the American nightmare for many of us. Defaults on credit card debt and mortgages saw a huge increase last year. The front pages of major economy and business publications warn of economic crisis ahead for the U.S. We thought since we couldn't afford the good life that we could just charge it to our credit cards. But that seems to be catching up with us these days.

Jesus message that there is enough for all still applies today. In a world that functions on a paradigm of scarcity, we believe in a Creator that offers abundance. But how do we live into that? That has been a driving question for our church. We've realized that many of us were leading lifestyles that oppressed others either here or elsewhere. We realized that if we were going to live out a broader definition of the good news it was going to compromise the good life.

We started by looking at the Early Church in the Book of Acts. They seemed to be trying to apply this Jubilee announcement. They shared everything. Rich and poor alike. And everyone had enough. We realized that many of us could never own a house in this economy. So, some of us now co-own a piece of property together that has enough room for two families and a few single people. We share a lot of meals together. At first, we worried about this. Would our budgets allow for feeding this many people? We eat more simply than we used to but together, there's always enough. We have a garden in which we're trying to grow food for ourselves and others.

Is this all good news for the poor yet? We're not sure. Certainly, many people probably heard what Jesus said and weren't sure either. Afterall, Israel was still occupied by the Roman Empire after Jesus had sat down. The Roman Empire was still controlling Palestine when the early church started practicing Jubilee in their midst too! But by changing our lifestyle habits and living out a different kind of paradigm, we are slowly breaking the chains to our consumer culture that enslaves so many of us. Hopefully, we'll learn a few things that we can pass on to others. Already people seem to get a new imagination for living by hanging around our community house and that's good news... don't you think?

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