I wrote earlier this week about how much I liked David Brooks’ review of David Platt’s book, Radical, which I am anticipating I will also like very much.
And since I am having a like-fest this week, let me note how much I liked Jan Edmiston’s review of Platt’s book on A Church for Starving Artists, a blog I like a lot in general. In particular, I liked Jan’s honesty as she commented on Platt’s call for Christians to live on $50,000 a year and give away the rest:
I speak for myself here: When friends live in palatial homes with perfect yards and they seem to go to Europe a lot, I find myself jealous and competitive. And the simple truth is that our family cannot afford to live on $75,000 a year much less $50,000. We have multiple kids in college and a mortgage (small house but expensive market.) One of my proudest achievements is that we paid for braces for 3 kids: $18,000 with dental insurance.
This is not to say we could cut back on some things. But honestly, I don’t want to. There, I said it. My Starbucks treats are like little vacations on long working days (and most of them are paid for by generous parishioners who share gift cards.) My car was bought used – but it has a moonroof which frankly adds joy to my life. We have a dog that needs food and vet appointments, but she has made life a little sweeter for all of us.
How do we discern what is excess and what is not?
My own reply is that the question represents the entirely understandable but yet wrong end of the proverbial stick with regard to giving. I mentioned to you that I’ve been writing the chapter on Ransoming the Captive for my upcoming book, so the material for that is fresh in my spell checker. I quoted from it briefly last week, but let me share a bit more as my own reflection in response to Jan’s question. It’s written specifically in relation to ransoming captives, but you’ll no doubt catch the general point:
If Christ sets one free, it is tempting to think that such freedom ought to free one from work that is personally all-consuming, like the work of ransoming the captive. The Trinitarians and the Mercedarians give up a third of their resources in its pursuit. Schindler forks over every last pfennig. Early Christians offer their own lives as ransom. Is it not ransom enough for one to subsidize someone else’s gas and holiday wrapping paper expenses? Why can others not find freedom in Jesus from that?
Such a perspective perfectly misses the point of ransoming the captive, however. As [Carolyn] Osiek deduces in her own study,
“The exhortation to redeem captives is deeply rooted in the biblical message of human liberation and habitually linked with other preaching and work for relief of the needy.”
Habitually linked—both words are crucial, even in relation to Jesus himself. Jesus does not die for strangers—nor does he even die for sinners or for his enemies. That those he dies for are all these things—sinners estranged from God who are thus his enemies—is absolutely true. But who Jesus dies for is his beloved humanity, who have tragically become his sinfully estranged enemies.
And in this is a world of difference. It is the habit of [God] to love human beings with a comprehensive attitude and pattern of direct contact, warm relationship, and unfailing and unwarranted beneficence. Ransoming them is simply the costly consequence of that love. Since the dawn of the race he has done good to them, fed them, shared his bread with them, opened his home to them, visited and remembered them, and healed and comforted them. Having done all these things for each human being, would he not also give himself to ransom them from the very thing that separates them from him?
In the same way, for those ransomed by the blood that courses with his love—for those who have mirrored the fullness of his philanthropy to the world, doing good, sharing their bread, opening their homes, visiting and remembering, healing and comforting, proclaiming the gospel, forgiving and reconciling, and making disciples, what could account for them withholding their own lives from those to whom they have thus given? It is their reasonable and joyful worship of [God].
One may subsidize gas for a stranger, but only the habit of love finely trained through mirroring Christ’s Works of Mercy to the world will prompt one to lay down one’s life. And it will indeed prompt one to do exactly that. One will always do so for a much beloved one. The Works of Mercy train one to love as God loves, with a love of God and neighbor maturing to the full stature of Christ. One will love first those who are of the household of God, and next those in the world, as Paul notes in Galatians 6 and as Jews and Christians from the earliest days on through Maximilian Kolbe in our own era demonstrate.
Even in the world outside of God, if one’s one family member were kidnapped, there would be no question about sacrificing everything to meet demands for ransom; it is the stuff of television. So when Peregrinus Proteus is imprisoned, Christians come from other cities as far away as Asia bringing food, raising money, spending the night with him, bribing guards, helping him, defending him, strengthening him, lavishing their all on him because this is what they always do, because
44ball that believed were together, and had all things common;
45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
46And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
47Praising God, and having favour with all the people. (Acts 2:44b-47, KJV)
This is what Christ does for them and pours into them to pour out to each other. And it is what Maximilian Kolbe pours out on a stranger because he sees Christ in him. It is a customary and not an odd thing to ransom a captive who is one’s own blood. The miracle is not in the act of ransoming a loved one but rather in coming to love the one who is not one’s own blood in the first place. This is the gift one receives through the habitual practice of the Works of Mercy.