Sunday, December 28, 2014

Karl Barth on the Christian Disciple and Social Status

Along a second line the instructions given by Jesus have to do no less directly with the destruction by the coming of the kingdom of what is generally accepted as honour or fame among men: "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account" (Matt 5:11). For "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they malign those of his household" (Matt 10:25). And, therefore, "if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also" (Matt 5:39). Or according to the parable of' the wedding-guests: "do not sit down in the place of honor ... but at the lowest place . . . For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" (Luke 14:7-11). Or again: "whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant (Matt 20:26). Or again, in the presence of a real child whom Jesus called and set in the midst when his disciples were concerned about the question of the greatest in the kingdom of heaven: "unless you change and become like children, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 18:1-2). Or again, in direct contrast to those who love and claim the uppermost rooms at feasts and the chief seats in the synagogue and greetings in the market, we are not to be called Rabbi or father or master (Matt 23:6-7). "How can you believe when you receive glory from one of another," is Jesus' charge against the Jews (John 5:44); and by way of' contrast, he demands that the disciples should wash one another's feet: "For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you" (John 13:14-15). To come to Jesus is to take a yoke upon oneself like a gallant ox (Matt 11:29). 

All this can hardly be formulated, let alone practiced, as a general rule for improved social relationships. It is again clear that these sayings assume the existence of people who are freed by the concretely given command of Jesus from the universal dominion and constraint of ordinary conceptions of what constitutes social status and dignity and importance. It is not concealed from these people that all such conceptions are transcended and outmoded by the incursion of the kingdom of God; that there is a transvaluation of all values where the grace of God rules. They can and should reveal this in their action and abstention, in which they are no longer concerned with what those around regard as honor or dishonor. The disciple of Jesus can descend from the throne-the little throne perhaps-which even one may he allotted in human society. One does not do this willfully or of one's own choice, but as one is commanded. Yet as one is commanded one does it.
--Karl Barth. Call to Discipleship (Kindle Locations 402-403). Kindle Edition.