Before Jesus was born, his mother Mary predicted that he would offend some people. In the Magnificat she sang:
"He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."
She probably didn't realize in that moment how right she would be. That in fact, Jesus would offend and challenge so many people in high places that they would kill him for it.
Jesus set a clear pattern during his ministry of comforting those on the margins of society and offending the wealthy and powerful. He offended many in religious leadership by dining with "sinners." He shocked even when he reached out to those whom society considered "unclean." The rich young ruler walked away when Jesus told him that to be perfect, he should sell all that he had and give the money to the poor.
This is why widespread failure of pastors to challenge greed and the worship of Mammon is so troubling. John Blake at reports at CNN on an interview with Bishop Harry Jackson:
Jackson is not shy about stirring up controversy, but he stops short when it comes to preaching about greed. The Maryland bishop said he encourages his congregation to get through the Great Recession by saving and sharing. But he doesn't want to alienate well-off members by talking about what's behind the nation's economic woes.
"I've got to watch it," said Jackson, pastor at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland. "I could get into some big teaching on greed, but the reality is that a lot of that teaching may wind up creating anti-economic-growth and anti-capitalism concepts (in people's minds). ... I always talk about personal responsibility so we don't get into the blame game."
Jesus's teaching on possessions and wealth offended people 2,000 years ago and they should still offend us today. Every day the choice is before us to serve God or mammon, and we don't always choose rightly. In situation after situation we are asked to choose between putting our trust in God or in our possessions -- and we don't always choose God.
The Rev. Robin R. Meyers, senior minister of Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City told CNN's Blake:
Charity -- feeding the poor, steering people to job opportunities -- must be accompanied by justice, Meyers said.
"It's good to pull people out of the river when they're drowning," the Oklahoma pastor said, "but it's also good to go upriver to see who's throwing them in the river."
Scripture constantly should be challenging our assumptions about our lives and in every aspect of society. Transformation is needed on a personal and also a political level. Scriptural priorities shouldn't be glossed over in order to protect political ideologies and comfort zones.
If we believe that what Jesus taught remains just as relevant today as it did when he physically walked among us, then it should still be a comfort to those on the margins of society and offensive to the wealthy and powerful. That doesn't mean that the wealthy and powerful can't be good and faithful followers of Christ, but Jesus did warn them that their walk will be a hard one. Wealth and power bring unique and difficult temptations.
Whenever I look at my Mint.com account (an online way to track and budget my spending) I'm convicted by the way I sin when it comes to my own resources. I try to challenge myself to live more simply and be more generous.
As I continue on my own Christian journey, I am growing increasingly certain of one thing: If you never feel uncomfortable when you read the Gospels then you aren't paying attention.
Tim King is communications director at Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.