Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A True Communitarian Attempt: Acts 2:44-46 (Part 9)

When reading Luke-Acts as a whole, one begins to see a certain trajectory. We begin with John the Baptist saying:

He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise." Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, "Teacher what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than is appointed you." (Luke 3:11-13)

You can see some of these same issues unfold with Jesus. The first part can be found in Jesus' commands to his disciples when he sends them out:

Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. (Luke 9:3)

In addition to keeping only one garment, the tax collector issue also shows up throughout. Jesus mingles with tax ocllectors, but more poignantly, the passage concerning Zacchaeus, the tax collector who does not cheat anyone and does not make them pay more than appointed, stands out as a good example (19:1-10). For the almost impossibility of this, see this post.

But Jesus also radicalizes John's message of giving extra cloaks and not cheating people. He goes so far as to say that one cannot enter the Kingdom of God and/or follow him without selling everything and giving it to the poor! This is best illustrated, perhaps, by the rich young ruler who is perfect in every other way, but will not sell everything and give it to the poor, and, therefore, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (18:18-25). Or think of the story of Lazarus and the rich man (16:19-31). Yet the disciples too must sell everything and give it to the poor (12:32-34).

Acts takes this logic and applies it inwardly. Not just to the poor, but to the community. So, in Acts 3:44-46:

And all who believed were together and had all things in common;a nd they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts.

So, from selling all one's possesions and giving the proceeds to the poor, this passage turns this action into a distinctly communitarian effort: selling one's possessions and giving the proceeds to the community. Then, the community redistributes as any have need. This appears to be some form of incipient communism (I'll stick with lowercase "c"). Almost like a Kibbutz mentality, yet one in the city, since they stay in Jerusalem and meet in the temple, the most sacred place. If one does not give to the community and one belongs to the group, if one witholds, then the consequence is death (5:1-11).

Ultimately, we see two mutations in the model, two distinct developments from John the Baptist to Jesus, and then again from Jesus to the Jerusalem community. This is probably not an easy Jesus to follow, not an easy message. But, it seems to me, most Christians sanitize or just plain ignore these parts of the Bible, reinterpreting them to a nicer, friendlier, Buddy Jesus.

No comments: