Friday, September 20, 2013

The Systems We Find Ourselves In

Our parable for this week is perhaps the most perplexing and challenging one Jesus ever told--Luke 16:1-13, which can be read here.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been thinking about systems a lot. Namely, I have been thinking about the deep brokenness of the systems we live in. As I have talked with people who are caught up in government bureaucracy, who are trying to navigate the criminal justice system, who are fighting to receive what they need in the healthcare system, who are struggling under massive debt, who find themselves on the cusp of homelessness, I have grown more and more discouraged and found myself crying out for justice. No matter where you are politically, you have to admit there is deep brokenness in the systems of our nation and our world.

I feel like Jesus, in his mystifying parable this week, is offering some commentary about the systems of the world, the way the world works, and how we as Christians are to live in light of these systems. I have been reacquainting myself this week with the writings and work of one of my seminary classmates, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who has made it his ministry to challenge systems that oppress in a variety of ways, and read this quote from his book God's Economy that, for me, resonated with this passage of scripture:

Whatever steps we take to live the abundant life that Jesus has made possible, we can’t ignore the fact that we live in the midst of political systems that affect us and our neighbors. Beloved community happens here and now, but it never happens in a vacuum. God’s economy intersects with the economies of this world. We pay (or don’t pay) our taxes and our tithes with bills that bear the images of dead leaders and the inscriptions of nation-states. Wherever we find ourselves, God’s people live under occupation in this world, negotiating the power of rulers who have not yet submitted all things to our Creator. Jesus doesn’t ask us to flee from the world or take it over. Instead, he invites us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. He gives us a tactic for how to live as a people under occupation until the whole universe submits to our King.

What might a universe looks like that submits to our king? And how might we participate in that present-and-coming kingdom even now, in the midst of the broken systems that try to ensnare us? I think these are the challenges, among other things, with which this parable presents us. Read it and consider: what is Jesus really challenging and inviting us to here?

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

I have no idea what this parable is trying to tell us. It just feels like we're missing something crucial about social context or language here.

I'm not sure what the "tactic" is here, either. Show mercy (if that's what it is...might just be expediency) while you're ripping off the boss? Get yours while you can?

16:9 " And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes."

What?! Why store up treasure here, which is far from eternal (either the treasure or the place)?

Unless this is one of those places where Jesus was being sarcastic or trying to present such a shocking contrast to other things God said, none of this makes any sense to me.

Participating in these broken systems - if that is what the parable suggests - in the spirit of this this parable seems like a great way to lose saltiness, eh?

I guess I just don't get how this parable leads to submission to God's kingdom or our work to help bring that about.