There is nothing that makes me angrier as a pastor than “prosperity preachers” who tell their followers that by becoming a Christian nothing but blue skies and rose gardens are in their futures. These purveyors of a false theology are both deceitful in their presentation of the gospel and a danger to those who follow them. Imagine my delight then, when reading this week’s lectionary readings I ran across two passages which refute such nonsense head-on.
The first has to do with Saul’s conversion (Acts 9). Saul is on his way to Damascus when he struck blind and thrown off his horse by a lightning bolt (so to speak) from heaven. He has a conversation with the risen Jesus and instructed to go on to Damascus and await further instruction.
Meanwhile in Damascus, Ananias, a follower of the Way (the name used for the earliest Christians) has another conversation with Jesus. It goes like this:
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Did you notice that last line? “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Need I say more?
The second passage (John 21) is not as blatant as the one from Acts, but it nevertheless is a slap upside the head of those who promise their followers (not Jesus’ followers necessarily) a prosperous and happy life with no worries and lots of money to buy whatever it is they need. The resurrected Jesus is having a conversation with Peter on the shore of Lake Galilee. It goes like this:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Again, notice these sentences: “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” The writer of the gospel tells us that Jesus is telling Peter how he is going to die. Further I read it to also tell us that Peter is going to be taken/led places that he does not want to go.
Can it be any clearer that a life lived in Christ does not necessarily lead to a person becoming prosperous, at least as the world defines prosperity? As far as I know and legend tells it, everyone of the eleven remaining disciples (save John) died a martyr’s death. And speaking of legends, let me end this post with one I shared in a sermon several years ago.
There is an ancient book called the Acts of Peter which tells of Peter’s last days.
It seems Peter was in Rome when the Emperor Nero started a savage persecution of Christians.
Some of Peter’s friends,
fearing for his life,
convinced Peter to leave the city.
Walking away from Rome,
more than a little fearful,
Peter set out along the Appian way.
He was an old man now,
weary of all his journeying for Christ,
not sure of what he should do now,
or where he should go.
All his life he had expected to see Jesus return,
and now at the end this seemed more like wishful thinking than anything else.
little more than a pipedream.
But as Peter trudged away from Rome,
it is written that he met Jesus on the road.
Jesus was going towards the city.
In Latin Peter asked Jesus, “Quo Vadis, Domine?”
meaning “Where are you going, Lord?”
Jesus replied, “I go to Rome to die for you.”
Peter, we are told, stopped, and slowly turned around.
He could not bear to see Jesus die again.
And this time he did not fail.
Peter went back to Rome,
he continued his preaching and teaching,
and in the end he too was arrested and killed,
crucified as his Lord had been crucified,
Peter went back to Rome,
back to his own death.