One day at the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus directs the attention of his disciples to an impoverished widow who has put her last two coins, "all she had to live on," into the offering box. He points out that in God's sight this woman has given more than the wealthy have contributed (Luke 21:1-4, Mark 12:41-44).
A rich young man (or ruler, in some texts), self-assured that he has kept all the religious laws and practices, asks Jesus what more he can do to merit eternal life. He is told, "Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor" (Matthew 19:16-22, Mark 10:1731, Luke 18:1830).
Jesus said many things that seem extreme to us, such as that one should leave the family and follow him without saying goodbye (Luke 9:61-62). Likely Jesus is making indirect or allegorical points with these excessive-seeming commands. For the rich young man was hampered from loving fully by his excessive attachment to his wealth. He knew he couldn't make the move, and so he walks away sad and perplexed. Perhaps the message will sink in, and he will do more than donate some out-of-season garments to the poor. Most of us can't make the total commitments either, whether to love God with whole hearts or our neighbors as ourselves - let alone follow Paul's charge to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But should we turn away from our faith's teachings disenchanted?
Instead, let's propose a subcategory of Christianhood. Call it "Quasi-Christianity" and ourselves QCs. Those of other faiths who find their doctrinal commands too challenging can be designated QMs, QJs or Q-whatevers. So what do we, who cannot love 100 percent and will not redistribute all of our wealth among the huddling masses, do?
Henry Thoreau, in Walden, advised his readers to own nothing that they really would hate to have stolen from them. That attitude likely would keep us from becoming too attached to our assets.
Theologian Matthew Fox advises us to open ourselves in awe to the wonders of creation, appreciate them, be grateful, and try to see that others can share this attitude, an attitude that could perhaps be seen as sort of praying without ceasing and one that would encourage us to be generous enough to support programs that make it possible for others to savor life.
American Indian teachers and mystics of many faiths have emphasized that all people and all things are connected. Accepting this idea makes it easier to love one's neighbor, who then is seen as united to oneself in a connected universe.
Then there is Christ's revelation, found also in the Eastern religions, that one must lose one's life in order to save it (Luke 17:33, among others), meaning perhaps that one must lose one's ego-identification in order to be able to live and love fully. This is opposite to a self-centered focus on one's own salvation.
While getting beyond one's ego may be asking a bit much for most of us, we can, nevertheless, move toward all of these aforementioned ideals if we just don't take ourselves and our things too seriously. But, hey, don't ask me to give up my custom roll-top desk or my framed 1960 Philadelphia Eagles championship poster, for I realize, with some remorse, that I am a Quasi-Christian, though one accepting forgiveness.
- Coates is a member of St. Luke Lutheran Church in Williamsport