Tear Down Those Prison Walls and Run Free
By Jane Tawel
August 18, 2018
As long as we look for some kind of pay for what we do, as long as we want to get something from God in some kind of exchange, we are like the merchants. If you want to be rid of the commercial spirit, then by all means do all you can in the way of good works, but do so solely for the praise of God. Live as if you did not exist. Expect and ask nothing in return. Then the merchant inside you will be driven out of the temple God has made. Then God alone dwells there. See! This is how the temple is cleared: when a person thinks only of God and honors him alone. Only such a person is free and genuine.
This quote by Meister Eckhart expresses well what has been on my mind as I look at American Christianity in particular, and The Church in the world in 2018. In my own country, it seems that the curtain has been suddenly and violently pulled back revealing the underbelly of a monstrous misunderstanding of what many of us claim is the truth of God in Christ’s revelations and the words of Holy Scripture.
We have gone so far into making Christianity a capitalistic individualistic religion that most of us can’t really see at all how to live The Jesus Way anymore. We have sold Christ’s Kingdom for paid ministry. We have justified our gains by calling them blessings. We have shared what we can afford to share and assumed that Christ died for us without any need for us to die to ourselves and live for the love of our enemies. We have disagreed with each other without any purpose higher than our own self-satisfied viewpoint. We have condemned the sinner and refused to condemn the sin of our own pride, greed, and smallness. The speck in our own eye has blinded us to the needs of a dying planet’s planks of rainforest proportion. We have found idols without names and joined cults of personalities without souls. The broad path is Walmart-sized while the narrow path is being littered with the trash of the world’s super-economies. We are lost and we do not know it, because the marketplace is thriving. And we think that what we do in churches can make up for what we have done to God’s Temple.
It may be time to stop calling ourselves “little Christs” until we relearn what that means in this time, in this place, in this trial, in this suffering, in this mammoth Babylon made of paper money, security cameras, and nightly numbing entertainments. Perhaps it is time we stopped training pastors and priests and paying them at all; instead listening to the sidewalk prophets lying homeless on our streets. Perhaps no one should accept money for publishing a devotional Bible. Perhaps evangelism should be as free as the Salvation Jesus offers us. Perhaps instead of moaning about cakes and billboards and carpets and even cancer, we should meditate long and hard on what is profiting our souls as we continue to gain the world.
Maybe we should worship in parks and living rooms and share what we bring — of our goods and of our goodness –to be together in spirit and in truth. Perhaps my job should be just that – my job –and my ministry, my religion, my image bearing should be just that – something wild, something free, something communal, something out of my control, something healing, and lonesome, something humble and meek and bold and crazy – just like Jesus’s ministry was. And is. Or could be, anyway.
When is it “Time’s up” for me – for us – to understand that the path is narrow, and almost impossible to walk on. The Jesus Way means I must separate my need to live from my need to live in Him. I must be willing to work to feed myself and work to feed others; to provide fish for my table must be separated from being a fisher of men. This is actually the opposite of the Gnosticism that we now embrace as Christians, thinking that my daily body life can be sanctified if somehow I have “Jesus in my heart”. I must find a way out of thinking that there is no struggle in the dichotomy of this world now and this world as it was meant to be and as we are meant in God to recreate it. I must let my left hand serve my human needs without knowing what my right hand is doing serving the needs of souls. We must see how far we have fallen into the Solomonic way of thinking that we can have it all and still have Eternity in Christ. I must give up any personal gain that I can fathom, if I want something on earth, as it is in heaven.
Perhaps it is time for a temple cleansing. If Christ came to tear the curtain between the Holy One and the sinful ones; then perhaps it is time for us sinful ones to rip apart the curtains of our earthly mansions and looking through the dusty windows of our humbled souls, see the world as God sees it. Janis Joplin sang it well: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” Or as Jesus said, “What is all your profit really worth, if in the end, all you get to keep is what remains of the God-likeness in you?” Jesus came to set us free but we have to walk through the prison doors to enjoy that freedom.
Perhaps it is time for us to see the prison bars of capitalism and self-serving individualism that we have constructed and falsely called “Christianity”. Perhaps it is time to tear down those bars and then start setting other prisoners free. Perhaps it is time to tear down the walls of the churches, to stop selling in the temples, and to with fear and trepidation seek the freedom that comes from true worship and true servant-hood.
As Jesus said, “It can all be summed up like this: Love a God Who is not you. And also –Love others in exactly the same measurements and judgments in which you love yourself.”
Maybe it is time to rip apart the walls of our hearts with no apparent protection from the onslaught of freedom. Perhaps it is time to repent from our foolish self-blinding way of seeing our world, and see through the eyes of Christ. And with the eyes of Christ, we can run free indeed.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free.” — Jesus, The Christ (as quoted in Luke 4:18)
Today in the newspaper, I read about a woman who was imprisoned for seventeen years because a false witness lied to the police and no one cared enough to find out the truth. We want to say that we are following the path set out by Jesus but instead we are reclining at our tables while a whole world is imprisoned by lies from the Father of Lies. The oppression of greed goes hand in hand with the oppression of need. Do we care enough to find out the Truth? Do we care enough to find out the truth about The Truth, The Way, and The Life — Messiah? Can I get a witness?
But on “That Day”, The Lord will separate the greedy from the needy. No matter where or when we live, how much we have or don’t have, we are not at all worthy. That is a lie of Satan from the time of Adam and Eve. Yet many in The Church are fond of telling us that in this cheap grace era but expensive Christian era; that somehow we are worthy. We have stolen the dross of wealth instead of giving up all for the solid gold crown of eternal worthiness. We are all sinners, guilty as charged. There is only One Witness who is True and who can set us free. Jesus. The Witness, who is The King, who is the Judge, will one day ask me if I lived as a witness for Him. God will one day ask me as a hard trial lawyer or a judge would, if I own enough to pay to get out of jail. And none of us will be able to say, yes, — not even Mr. Amazon himself. Will The Church continue to think it is about what we own and not what we are? Should those who want to be like Jesus, claim any freedom to “practice their religion in freedom”? No, we have no freedom except the freedom to give up everything, and take up the cross of Christ. If we who are guilty die with He Who was not guilty, then we will live in resurrected freedom forever.
Jesus has our get out of jail card and the right directions on the path to eternal freedom. Above this world’s prison bars is this message: “If you want true freedom, even the ultimate freedom from death, then give up everything, and follow God.” And this is absolutely impossible to do. And yet, Christ did it. And Christ offers to do it for, in and through us.
Perhaps it is time, we let Him set us free.