“He was holding tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.” That’s from The Message.
Diana Butler Bass suggested on her Facebook page that the lectionary is trolling American politics. Diana recommended that those who were preaching today, like she is, should read The Intercept article by Naomi Klein. Naomi suggests we are living in “the age of the Pampered Princeling”.
And this young man Jesus encountered was likely such a person. He had wealth, perhaps inherited wealth, due to his young age, and he was holding on tight. Jesus still loved him and I want to remember that. Though the current tenor of politics is extremely aggravating--and in many ways, disgusting--Jesus loves these pampered princelings. Of course, the Gospel message spends way more time talking about Jesus’ love and care for the marginalized and the poor--who are often the same person. And I always want to remember that.
Pampered princeling: the New York Times recently published the results of their extensive investigation into our president’s wealth. Ms. Klein has this to say about it, “…a rare window into an even larger story about the growing political and economic role of inherited money in the United States--the culmination of decades in which a handful of sons and daughters of bequeathed wealth waged a fierce and relentless battle of ideas against the very concept of equality and majority rule, all based on the same corrupting belief in their own inherent superiority.”
I am reminded of the people in Jesus’ time (and in ours) who assumed that a person’s affliction was a result of sin. Those who were blessed with health, wealth and power were the apples of God’s eye. Jesus was constantly pointing out the error of this thinking.
The pampered princeling: Building up to our current state of affairs people, including Charles and David Koch, “…bankrolled the think tanks, financed the extreme free-market university programs, and funded tea party shock troops that moved the Republican Party so far to the right that Trump could stomp in and grab it.” They had a list: Market deregulation, dismantling the EPA, lowering corporate taxes, eliminating estate taxes (death tax) and paying for all of it by dismantling social safety nets or “entitlements” as they call them.
All of this rested on “harnessing the emotional power of racism (think, “welfare queen”), as well as the parallel construction of a highly radicalized system of mass incarceration to warehouse the poor (and profit from them, of course). … the policies pushed by these wealthy families also happen to directly benefit their bottom lines.” These were not self-made business leaders. “They were … pampered princelings whose fortunes had been handed to them by their parents.”
“How exactly do you rationalize being lifted up by an intricate latticework of familial and social supports (tutors, prep schools, connections at the best universities, entry-level executive jobs, capital to play with), and then setting about shredding the meager safety net available to those without your good luck?
How do you convince yourself that, despite having been handed so much, you are not just right but righteous in attacking the “handouts” received by single mothers working two jobs? How, when you know your own family fortune has benefitted from enormous government subsidies … do you begrudge paying the same tax rate as your employees?”
Since the wealth is inherited, there must be other rationales to say more wealth is deserved while others should get far less: Inherent superiority, greater deservedness, better values, better breeding, better religion. “The often spoken conviction that [the others] … must be defective in both body and mind. Convinced that people belong where they are on the economic and social ladder, … keep distributing wealth upward to the dynastic families that fund their movement, while kicking the ladder out of the way for those reaching for the lower rungs.”
The voters--the base--will never be showered with millions. Like the poor Jesus suggested could receive the young man’s wealth. Why do they follow, these voters? “… they are being invited to share in their own, … , “birthright” entitlements as white, middle-class Americans. … be on the winning team, “taking our country back” from any and all invaders and threats, from immigrants taking “our” jobs to women bearing damaging stories against “our” sons. Pampered princelings.
“The divine right of kings has been replaced by the divine right of wealth--and it looks almost exactly the same. … if your experience is that every time you stumble, you recover as if by magic, then you will be much more prone to upping the ante next time, convinced that you and yours will surely be alright in the end, as you always have been.” So, “why not refuse to regulate derivatives? The market will self-correct. Why not pour that toxic waste into a river? The solution to pollution is dilution, right? And why not invade Iraq? It will surely be a “cakewalk”. … why not ignore decade after decade of warnings from climate scientists telling us [we are running out of time to control emissions]? Come on, don’t be so negative, surely technology will save us …”
Pampered princelings. “In boiling times like ours, supremacist thinking is contagious.” So we have “... two totally different visions of justice: innocent until proven guilty--[if you are part of the elite], and stop and frisk for anyone seen as a possible criminal in Chicago (obvious code for a black person walking down the street). This is not seen as a contradiction: There are two classes of people--us and them, winners and losers, people deserving of rights and everyone else.”
And, yet, encountering this pampered princeling, Jesus and his disciples continued their ministry--mainly focusing on the poor and marginalized. Peter reminds Jesus that he and the others had left behind their worldly goods to follow him and they continued his ministry under great duress for the rest of their lives.
So, Diana may be right--perhaps the lectionary is trolling American politics. I hope it is convicting us if we are participating in the notion that bad things only happen to those who screw up--who are stupid--who deserve to be poor.
It is a nice thought that God protects us from harm, from poverty, from our own stupidity and bad choices. Then there is Job, who did not deserve what happened to him and this pampered princeling who is probably in the same category--not deserving his wealth. If you consider those disciples, things did not go well for most of them--some would point out that they left their livelihoods behind to follow some foolish idea that all people were human beings deserving of God’s love, deserving of good things, and deserving their own path to prosperity.
And, yet, we see these disciples as examples, we name our churches after them and trace our ordinations to them. Jesus really did turn the world on its ear and the work is not done. This is why Chaplains on the Harbor has been hosting a Freedom School this weekend. We are trying to educate ourselves by listening to one another, by learning how the establishment operates, and by strategizing with the poor and marginalized of Grays Harbor instead of strategizing about and without them. Maybe you can help us answer the question: How can we break this cycle of pampered princelings wielding power at the expense of the rest of us? “He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.”