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.