It is no secret that among my favorite theologians Stanley Hauerwas stands tall. My closest friends who have read Hauerwas’s “work” recognize how my theology has been influenced by his thought, his cantankerousness, his wit, and, most importantly, his love for the church. I am not just a “fan” of Hauerwas. I have done my best to read his writings carefully and mine from the riches found there those things which ring true and bring them to expression in an actual lived life–my own. I have learned from Hauerwas that to be Christian we must undergo training that teaches us how to see, and we learn how to see through saying, or liturgy. We are trained as we participate in the life of the people called “Church.” There we are taught how to be God’s peace in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit, the telling of the story of Scripture, and the witness of the saints.
This week I have been reading A Cross-Shattered Church: Reclaiming the Theological Heart of Preaching. The book is a collection of sermons written on various occasions. Some are written for weddings or other special life-happenings, some for worship in local churches, and others for those gathered as part of the Divinity School at Duke University. This morning this quote gave me pause:
We are well schooled as Christians. We know that we are not to identify with Judas. Yet we cannot help but think, thief though he was, Judas was right–the costly perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. If we are honest we cannot resist the conclusion: Judas is appealing.
Moreover, if any conviction characterizes what it means to be Christian in our day, it is surely the presumption that we ought to be on the side of the poor. No longer sure we know what it means to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we at least take comfort that to be a Christian requires that we care about those less well off. Of course that means for us–that is, for the moderately well off–to care for the poor usually extends no farther than our attempt to make the poor like us, that is, moderately well off.
Given the world in which we find ourselves, a world that thinks what Christians believe must make us doubtful allies in the struggle for justice, the Christian concern for the poor can win us some respect. The cultural despisers of the church at least have to acknowledge that Christians do some good in spite of our reactionary convictions. So it is good that we burn with a passion for justice. The only problem with such a passion is that it can put us on Judas’s side.
-Stanley Hauerwas, “The Appeal of Judas”, A Sermon for Duke Divinity School, March 28, 2007 in A Cross-Shattered Church, 95
This strikes me as true. For those of us that deeply burn for justice, our temptation is to sell out Jesus for a bag of silver. Preaching Jesus as God’s Son, God’s peace in a violent world, who, in being hung on a cross brings an end to violence, an end to sacrifice, expresses the full measure of God’s grace, and there declares the forgiveness of sin, are peculiar truths in a world like ours. It is much easier to say that we should be nice people with a concern for those who are monetarily less well off.
Hauerwas continues his sermon by reminding us that Jesus’s response to Judas is something we wish he would have never said, “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not have me.” Hauerwas further raises excellent questions for the church, saying, “The church has glossed over Jesus’s response to Judas by not asking, ‘What if we did more than care for the poor?’ or, ‘What if we celebrated the poor?’” He then follows by simply stating, “That such questions are not asked reflects a church that has forgotten that Christianity is determinatively the faith of the poor.”
Hauerwas’s reminder extends in two directions. First, Hauerwas gazes across the span of church history and acknowledges the church’s buildings, liturgy, music and hymns, is a beauty for the poor. In addition, “The literature of the church, her theology and philosophy, is distorted if it does not contribute to the common life determined by the worship of a Savior who was poor.” This last quotation leads directly to Hauewas second point of emphasis–the Messiah Christians worship was poor. Indeed, “The poor you will always have with you.”
I can only hope that my theology as it has been embodied among my peers and among the students I have mentored has reflected a celebration of those who are poor. I also hope that I am not among those who are “no longer sure what it means to believe Jesus is the Son of God.” I hope that my care for those that are poor is an extension of my belief that Jesus is who Scripture and the Church across time has proclaimed him to be.
As I begin this day, that is my prayer.