Can the Middle Class be Saved?

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One of the hallmarks of Christ’s earthly ministry was the fact that harlots, publicans, “sinners” of various sorts, seemed to “get” his message a more easily than did the “righteous”: pharisees, sadducees, kings, scribes, etc.

Indeed it is obvious that St. Paul, good rabbinical student that he was, had no idea that he was a sinner when Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus. “Concerning the law, I was blameless,” he would later say.

In Christ’s time of earthly ministry, it was said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

I want to change the position of the bar. Rich men were rare in those days so it might have even been but a small concern. More to the point, I want to ask, “Is it possible for the Middle Class to the saved?” There are an awful lot of us, and what we now define as rich is pretty well off the chart in the standards of human history. I can buy fruit any season of the year from almost anywhere in the world and at a price that seems cheap to me. That’s pretty rich by historical standards.

What do the Middle Class think they need salvation from? I believe that the slow drain of Churches in Europe is connected with the slow rise of the Middle Class. Recent trends in Ireland would bear this out. An island that once was famous for its incredible poverty, was also famous for its outstanding Church attendance, and the abundance of the priests it produced. Today, with membership in the EU, the standard of living has risen precipitously, Church attendance has fallen precipitously, and priests are no longer the great item of export they once were. Today, it’s Africa producing the bumper crop of priests. Not much Middle Class there.

What is so bad about being Middle Class? Nothing more than being rich in the first century. The problem then and now is the same. Mammon has a way of blinding us to any possible need for a Savior. We might “need” Jesus as our Savior, but frequently in a very thin sense. Nothing of the existential crisis that describes the life of the poor, the blind, the prisoner, the prostitute, etc. They got it because they lived on the edge of hell if not actually in it most of the time. They could recognize a Savior when they saw one.

St. Paul had to learn that though he was “blameless concerning the law,” he was nevertheless “unrighteous” and in need of a Savior. That’s a very hard lesson. A man cannot be saved if he has no need for a savior.

And there lies the problem of our successful rise to the Middle Class. We’re doing alright, thank you.

In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, there is a description of the Last Judgment, from the lips of a despicable drunk, Marmeladov. But it says some things that the Middle Class would do well to hear.

…”And He will judge and will forgive all, the good and the evil, the wise and the meek…And when He has done with all of them, then He will summon us, ‘You too come forth,’ He will say, ‘Come forth, ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!’ And we shall all come forth without shame and shall stand before Him. And He will say unto us, ‘Ye are swine, made in the image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!’ And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, ‘O Lord, why dost Thou receive these men?’ And He will say,’This is why I receive them, O ye wise, this is why I receive them, O ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.’ And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before Him…and we shall weep…and we shall understand all thing! Then we shall understand all!…and all will understand, Katerina Ivanovna even…she will understand…Lord, Thy kingdom come!” And he sank down on the bench exhausted and helpless, looking at no one, apparently oblivious of his surroundings and plunged in deep thought. His words had created a certain impression; there was a moment of silence; but soon laughter and oaths were heard again.

13 comments:

  1. Very interesting question!

    The way I see it, the problem with rich people is actually the problem of being attached to money. Money is at the end just a paper or amount of metal coins, so it cannot be bad in itself. So, problem is in attachment. We can give all the money we have to charity, but we may still remain attached to it. Man can go to the desert and leave everything and still be attached in his mind – if money persists as object of desire. So, what to do? In my opinion – solution is in taking positive approach, which means attaching oneself to one value that is not transitory – pearl of great price that Lord spoke about in Matthew 13:45-46

    Can we reach this understanding intellectually? Again it seems not… Lord explains it in Luke 10:21
    I am not saying that intellect is bad, it is just that we have to transcend it. As mind complicates, so heart simplifies – and so I understand that true knowledge is deep inside sincerity, simplicity and purity of the heart.

    Example with Ireland is interesting. Here in Serbia we are poor, but some politicians are promising that they will make similar miracle here, as happened with Irish economy. I have no problem with that I become more wealthy in the future, as long as I remember who is my greatest Treasure, as long as I do not mix in my head the Pearl of great price with less worthy pearls. This is answer for your middle class question too, I hope. But it is so easy to forget – what is most important in one’s life.

    Thank You Father for nice blog, and best wishes for your father’s speedy recovery.

    Greetings from Belgrade, Serbia

    Dejan

  2. As St John Chrysostom says in his Paschal homily, rich and poor, sober and heedless, those who have fasted and those who have disregarded the fast, all are invited.

  3. This was sent to me in an email:
    If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.
    If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week.
    If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.
    If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than three billion people in the world.
    If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.
    If your parents are still alive and still married, you are very rare, even in the United States.
    If you can hold someone’s hand, hug them, or even touch them on the shoulder, you are blessed because you can offer healing touch.
    If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful, you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.
    If you can read this message, you have just received a double blessing in that someone was thinking of you, and furthermore, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world who cannot read at all.
    As you read this and are reminded how life is in the rest of the world, remember just how blessed you really are!

    So does this make you think, wow I am so much better off than them? or I have to do something for the rest of the world? Gee, from Whom do all blessings flow and exactly what is a blessing because I consider my illness a blessing and apparently being middle class can be construed as a curse…

    the handmaid,
    Mary-Leah

  4. Of course all are invited to the banquet – but will they be hungry enough to come? Where Christianity is disappearing is precisely in the lands of prosperity. Mammon is a far more vigorous foe than Communism or many of the oppressors the Church has faced.

    Just wanted to raise the question in a form that would allow us to think about it.

    But, to answer my own question, I’ve have actually seen some members of the middle class saved. So I know it can happen. 🙂

  5. Father,

    I have noticed among my Christian friends – be they Evangelical, Orthodox or Catholic – most who come from middle-class and upper-middle class backgrounds, a real tension and disharmony with the lives they’ve been given. A tension exists because we as a generation recognize the amazing things our parents have given us, the comforts and the college educations, etc, while at the same time we know that all these blessings are double-edged swords. The tension is made worse in that, by rejecting some of the lifestyles our parents have grown used to we also seem to be rejecting them, which is not our intent.

    My parents gave me a passion for Christ. They also gave me a wealthy upbringing. It can be hard to reconcile the two. My contemparies feel the same way. We want to start agrarian Christian communities, or we desire to move to Africa, or perhaps we just want to be homeless for awhile. It is a strange reaction – a “downward mobility” as our friend the Ochlophobist described it. Whether it is a thing of the Gospel remains to be seen, I am hopeful though wary: any “movement” that is spawned soley to make one feel better about one’s lot in life is suspicious and it can be very hard to track clearly one’s own intentions. Lord, have mercy.

    Thank you for this post, Father.

  6. Of course all are invited to the banquet – but will they be hungry enough to come?

    Aye, that is the problem.

    A couple of years ago we started a new mission congregation with a lot of enthusiastic people, most of them unemployed. It thrived, and we prayed for them and they got jobs, and we saw them no more. One got a job as a cell phone mast rigger in a remote country, another got a job that required him to work on Sundays, and so it goes.

  7. I often reflect on Jesus’ words to the rich young man, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” It would be easy to take “sell everything you have” as, hmmm, not exactly as hyperbole, but as a physical illustration of a spiritual principle (e.g., if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out). The trouble is, the Lord Jesus plainly means it literally for this young man.

    As a good Evangelical, I would have thought that “come follow me” would suffice for this man’s salvation, but that is not what our Lord tells him. And the apostles, of course, literally gave up everything to follow Jesus, as Peter himself asserts.

    And so I am troubled, wondering whether my remaining comfortably in the middle class is somehow incompatible with following Jesus.

    On the other hand the Lord did not make this demand of everyone. Zaccheus, for instance, though a very rich man, gave up only half of his riches to the poor (I take it that keeping half of “very rich” still makes you at least middle class), and our Lord says that salvation came to his house. (Yes, I suppose the Evangelical take on this is that Zaccheus is saved because he now believes in Jesus — which is certainly part of the story, but our Lord’s words seem to tie his salvation more natually to his acts of repentance and almsgiving).

    Mostly this just leaves me confused, still wondering if the middle class can be saved. I am loathe to hang on to wealth that will get between my family and God, but I am equally loathe to give it away precipitously if that would be as misguided as taking “cut off your hand” literally. Perhaps the solution is to view myself as a steward rather than an owner — that is, even if I still retain power over my possessions, it is not as one who owns them but as one who manages them for their true owner, the Lord Himself. This seems to be the approach of the early Christians in Acts who did not give everything away but among whom “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own.”

    Does anyone know what insights the Father’s might offer?

  8. Reid,

    Practice the tithe. A do not waste your money on frivolous things. God will show you from there how to go.

  9. Of course, we should be careful not to equate church attendance with the number of those who have truly given their lives to God and strive to live in the imitation of Christ. It is possible for church attendance to dwindle, and for the number of the devout to remain the same. I hope that doesn’t sound too Protestant, but I do believe it.

    I see the problem less in the environment around the church, than in the extent to which that environment has infected the church itself. I’m afraid that Christian congregations (Prot, RCC, Orthodox, etc.) hear less and less of the call to live in sacrifical imitation, not (or not merely) because the world around them has more wealth and distractions to offer, but (especially) because the church has compromised its message.

    In some ways, having the highest possible contradiction between the message of the church (take up your cross and follow Christ) and the message of the world (take up your wallet and follow your whim) would be better. At least then it would be clear what is involved in becoming Christian, what it means to be a Christian.

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