Luke On My Mind #5
Practicing the kingdom of God entails fellowship with the poor. Jesus came to announce “good news” (gospel) to the poor and to liberate the poor from their oppression. He came to sustain the needy and supply their needs.
Acts 2:42 characterizes the early church as devoting themselves to “fellowship” (koinonia). This term can have a wide range of meaning, but in this concern I think it has a fairly narrow concern. Acts 2:42 enumerates the kingdom habits of the church in Jerusalem, and Acts 2:43-47 narrates their practice of them. Luke’s language directly connects 2:42 and 2:44—the church engaged in fellowship (koinonia) as they held all things in common (koina). Their commonality (fellowship) exhibited itself when they sold their possessions and gave to everyone who had need (2:45). Their fellowship was sharing their possessions with each other.
Clearly this was a habit of the Jerusalem church. Luke summarizes the fellowship of the church when he writes that there were no needy among them (Acts 4:35) because people, including Barnabas, sold land and possessions in order to meet the needs of the poor in the church. This ministry continued daily in the church as the widows were fed (Acts 6:1).
At this point I can almost hear myself saying, “Well, those where special circumstances and selling our possessions is a rather rare and unique event in the life of the church. We do not find ourselves in their situation any longer. Selling your possessions is a good thing if you are able and want to do so, but it is a higher calling to which we are not all called. After all, the Rich Young Ruler was told to sell his possessions as a test and it is not the call of Jesus to all of us.”
But if we believe that the early church is simply imitating Jesus, and that their “fellowship” was the continuation of the ministry of Jesus, perhaps we ought to think a bit more carefully about this model in Acts 2-6. Indeed, we need to see how it is rooted in the ministry of Jesus himself.
For the moment I will call attention to one salient feature of Jesus’ teaching in Luke and come back to this point in another post.
There is a line that is practically forgotten in Luke’s account of Jesus “don’t worry” sermon in Luke 12—part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. We all recognize that we should not worry about our food and clothing just like the lilies of the field and the birds of the air don’t worry. That is difficult enough to obey, but Jesus says more. We also recognize that we should seek the kingdom of God and that just as God has given us the kingdom, he will give us all that we need. That is difficult enough to practice, but Jesus says more…in Luke.
Indeed, the Gospel of Luke contains a sentence that is not in the Sermon on the Mount. It is a sentence that I wish were not there. I want to relativize it, manipulate it, contextualize it, minimize it….I want to do everything I can with it except obey it.
Jesus says—not to the Rich Young Ruler, but to the same disciples (all his disciples) to whom he says “don’t worry,”—he says….”sell your possession and give to the poor (Luke 12:32).
When I read that the early church in Jerusalem was selling their possessions and sharing with the poor (fellowship), and that this was habit (they were devoted to it) of early Christians, I am challenged to think that just perhaps Jesus was serious about “selling our possessions and giving to the poor.”
In our materialistic American culture, it is a hard saying and it may the place where we fail to follow Jesus more than any other.
More on this theme later....