There are some nutritious and delicious meals that you would never eat if you knew what was in them before you sat down at the table. I would never have had scrambled eggs, for example, if they’d first been described to me as ground-up unfertilized bird embryos.
I had heard bad things about the Jesus Seminar, even though I know it has been influential among the theologians and historians in my own denomination. Nevertheless, my daughter seems to continually accumulate books at our house even though she no longer lives here, and I often glance at them even if I hadn’t intended to put them on my own reading list.
So, about the time I was thinking seriously about the analogies between how people accumulate spiritual wealth and how they accumulate physical wealth, specifically about how people can accumulate wealth by facilitating trade, I saw a copy of John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus lying on a trunk in our living room, and I looked at the book’s first paragraph: “Overture”.
Now, I care not a whit about the “historical Jesus” unless I come to him with a testimony that He is also a manifestation of the “cosmic Christ”. That’s part of the reason I’d been put off by rumors about the “faithlessness” of the Jesus Seminar in the first place. However, having such a testimony, I want to understand that historical Jesus as closely as I can, not just as disciples interpreted Him decades or even centuries later. And Crossan, who I subsequently realized had co-founded the Seminar, presented a picture of Jesus in his first words that related directly to the question of accumulating spiritual wealth:
“In the beginning was the performance; not the word alone, not the deed alone, but both, each indelibly marked with the other forever. He comes as yet unknown into a hamlet in Lower Galilee. He is watched by the cold, hard eyes of peasants living long enough at subsistence level to know exactly where the line is drawn between poverty and destitution. He looks like a beggar, yet his eyes lack the proper cringe, his voice the proper whine, his walk the proper shuffle. He speaks about the rule of God, and they listen as much from curiosity as anything else. They know all about rule and power, about kingdom and empire, but they know it in terms of tax and debt, malnutrition and sickness, agrarian oppression and demonic possession. What, they really want to know, can this kingdom do for a lame child, a blind parent, a demented soul screaming its tortured isolation among the graves that mark the edge of the village? Jesus walks with them to the tombs, and, in the silence after the exorcism, the villagers listen once more, but now with curiosity giving way to cupidity, fear, and embarrassment. He is invited, as honor demands, to the home of the village leader. He goes, instead, to stay in the home of the dispossessed woman. Not quite proper to be sure, but it would be unwise to censure an exorcist, to criticize a magician. The village could yet broker this power to its surroundings, could give this Kingdom of God a localization, a place to which others would come for healing, a center with honor and patronage enough for all, even, maybe, for that dispossessed woman herself. But the next day he leaves them, and now they wonder aloud about a divine kingdom with no respect for proper protocols…”
Crossan drives the message home in the concluding sentences of his next paragraph:
“You are healed healers, he [Jesus] said, so take the Kingdom to others, for I am not its patron, and you are not its brokers. It is, was, and always will be available to any who want it….Bring a miracle and request a table…”
The phrase “you are not its brokers” stunned me almost as much as the phrase “I am not its patron”. It is almost the exact, egalitarian opposite of everything I’d been taught about the Restoration; we believe we receive the gift of salvation by grace (patronage), and fulfill the purposes of that grace through strict discipline supervised (brokered) by the proper religious authorities and rituals. It was getting the brokers authorized and the rituals right, we think, that the Restoration was all about.
But Crossan is making the argument that “restoring things” (in our terminology) would mean getting back to the Jesus who, for a brief moment, stood against the encrusted religious shell of the established Temple order just as He stood against the encrusted empirical shell of the established political order. The apostasy (again in our terminology) would then have to consist of the very reestablishment of church institutions to broker access to salvation. The problem was the existence of brokers, not the correctness of the institutions or rituals they created to facilitate the brokering.
Indeed, Crossan emphasizes that Jesus did not ask people to support Him or his disciples so that He could work miracles; He inverted the order and gave the miracle first, whether it was repaid or not. So much so that he was first noted as a magician (in the modern sense of sorcerer, not showman) and only then as a wisdom teacher.
Jesus, Crossan asserts, advocated a “brokerless kingdom”. I found that idea, with my modern Western mindset of economics, incomprehensible. But then, the ancient world had found it incomprehensible, too, and so threatening that both religious and political authorities combined to kill Jesus for advocating them.
And then I thought of a subsequent post on the tragedy of the commons by Stephen Marsh. that is really based on a foundational assumption of why economics exist: resources are scarce compared to wants.
The Spirit of God is an inexhaustible resource. And when a resource is truly inexhaustible, and easily obtainable by anyone, it can not be overused, and there is no need for a continuing price mechanism. It can be shared for whatever little is given in return. It does not need to be hoarded for fear our physical needs will go unmet. That applies to all of us, but the example of those who lead may be especially important in convincing the rest of us.
For if there is no need for a price mechanism, there is no need for market makers (brokers) either. Indeed, the only way to create the need for spiritual brokers again is to restrict the flow of the Spirit artificially. If Crossan’s view is correct on the “brokerless Kingdom”, apostasy is exactly the process of artificially restricting the flow of the Spirit for the benefit of the established religious order — regardless of the correctness of the views of the religious order.