By Ronald Osborn
In his Spectrum commentary on the Sabbath School Lesson for June 2-8, Robert Wieland writes that "The Lord wants the world to enjoy life, which means happiness." He then proceeds to marvel at the benefits of modern technology, opining that "all of life's pleasures and conveniences" are "the purchase of the sacrifice of the Son of God on his cross". Christ's call to "abundant life", in Wieland's formulation, equates to "happiness", which equates to "security" and "conveniences", which equate to... indoor plumbing! Christ died, we learn, in order to advance a kingdom of "trains and planes" and "waterborne toilets"...and guilt-free enjoyment of the same "this side of that 'national ruin' we know is coming".
But did Jesus really die for our "happiness" so defined? Is the blood of the martyrs now the (toilet) seat of the (air-conditioned) church? According to the New Testament witness, Jesus was a poor peasant who spoke and acted in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, denouncing the violence and economic oppression of ruling elites and summoning his disciples to live lives of dangerous simplicity and nonconformity with power. This Jesus radically subverted the priorities and values of much of Jewish culture as well as Greco-Roman "civilization", all of its scientific and technological marvels notwithstanding. In theend, this same Jesus--the Christ of first-century history as opposed to the insipid figurine of regnant Protestant atonement theology--was executed by the religious and political leaders of his day, acting in collusion with a foreign imperial power, on charges of blasphemy and sedition against the state.
We are therefore confronted in the Bible with a deeply unsettling question that Wieland never asks and that he seems to fail to even discern: What does it REALLY mean to share in Jesus' abundant life as opposed to the "abundant life" purveyed and aspired to by the rest of bourgeois America?