If There is a Rock and Roll Heaven

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The other day I heard that Lou Reed passed away. Reed was a moving force in Rock and Roll during the time period I was coming of age. I never was much of a fan but thought the guitar work in Sweet Jane was awesome (or groovy as we used to say). Reed and his group the Velvet Underground never reached the popularity of lets the say the Stones, Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple but they inspired other musicians to step outside the box. It was said that they only sold 30,000 copies of their first album but 30,000 bands were started because of it.

Lou Reed. Schinitzer Concert Hall Portland, OR

Lou Reed. Schinitzer Concert Hall Portland, OR (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I heard the news I thought of other artists from the 60’s and 70’s who have passed on to what’s next. In fact, back in 1974 the Righteous Brothers did a tribute song to artists that died young, usually from drug overdoses. The list in 1974 included Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison of the Doors. The Righteous Brothers did a remake in 1991 (below) to take into account other artists who had passed since 1974.

One of the lines in the tribute is “if there is a rock and roll heaven, then you know they have one hell of a band.”

Another line is, “if you believe in forever, the life is just a one night stand.”

The song is heavy on sentimentality as well as appreciating the various artists for their contributions to rock and roll history. In 1974 I reacted to it with some sentimentality (I really liked Hendrix) and a vague nod to the line that if heaven had a rock band these folks would be in it.

In 1974 I was in my agnostic days, not real sure there was a God, but if there was he would be a swell guy and when we died all good folks would be in heaven (if there was one) with him. That would include all the rock idols who died and were mentioned in the Righteous Brothers tribute song.

Then as now, people make assumptions about heaven and even more assumptions about God (if they even consider him at all) as well as assumptions about their own goodness. I was one such person. If there was a heaven and a swell God then I was probably good enough to make the cut.

When I visited YouTube to listen to Lou Reed’s Sweet Jane once more comments assumed that old Lou was now in that awesome, heavenly, rock and roll band. That saddened me.

A long time ago a wealthy young man approached Jesus and he asked what must he do to inherit eternal life. He asked the best question that anyone could ever ask and he asked the right person to boot. He didn’t like the answer because he valued something else more, but at least had the sense to ask the right question to the right person. (Mark 10:17-31)

It was with sadness that I learned of Lou Reed’s passing. It was not because I thought he was a great artist and all that sentimental stuff. What I know of Lou Reed was true of many of my rock and roll idols from the 60’s and 70’s. They may have been great musicians and singers but they rarely, if  ever considered eternal things and on the whole, as one friend noted, were lousy role models. Like me, they made assumptions and probably like that wealthy young man so many years ago never considered what Jesus had to say about what comes next and what it takes to get there.

As for God being a swell guy? I like what C.S. Lewis said in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

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Was Jesus a Socialist or a Capitalist?

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Sometimes I like Bill O’Reilly on Fox and some times I don’t. I like it when he says he is looking out for the folks and he doesn’t allow his guests to spin the topic regardless of facts.

I don’t like him when he discusses matters of faith and religion with someone. I suspect his book “Killing Jesus” which he markets as pure history has something to do with his willingness to discuss matters of faith.  Such was the case when he recently had a female, liberal Catholic professor from Notre Dame on his program.

Whaddya mean you don't like me if I talk about faith and religion?

Whaddya mean you don’t like me if I talk about faith and religion?

O’Reilly claims that his book Killing Jesus is not doctrinal, just factual history. The professor accused O’Reilly of cherry picking his facts to make her argument that Jesus was a socialist (and advocated free health care) and that the rich were obligated to sell all their possessions and distribute them to the poor. She said that a failure to do so would result in eternal damnation for the rich. The woman is supposed to be Catholic theologian so that was quite the statement!

O’Reilly responded by telling her she was misreading the gospel and that if she really believed that she was a loon. O’Reilly also said she should not take the parable literally but agreed with her that in general Jesus did care for the poor (and advocated charity). You can read about it here. 

So, why don’t I like it when O’Reilly wades into matters of faith?

The O’Reilly Show makes for good political theater. The show is part serious and part entertaining. The time allotment for each guest is short, forcing the guest and O’Reilly to be succinct and marshal their arguments in summary form. The theater comes in when most guests evade the question and attempt to “spin” the subject.  By and large, it’s a formula that works and usually O’Reilly’s arguments are far more cogent and to the point than the guests.

The format does not work so much when matters of faith are discussed. O’Reilly’s argument with the liberal Catholic professor (O’Reilly is Catholic as well) is a good case in point.

The text they apparently were discussing (without directly referring to it) was Luke 18:18-30. (Also found in Matt. 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31)

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:18-30 ESV)

O’Reilly’s encounter with the liberal Catholic professor moved from a general argument that Jesus was a socialist that advocated free health care to O’Reilly’s generalization that she misunderstood the gospel and that parables should not be taken literally. Their discussion centered on the above text but neither quoted it accurately nor even referred to it in a specific way thus leaving the listener to choose between two interpretations of a text never worked through.

Since they were talking about matters of heaven and hell (which they both appeared to believe in) one would hope that they would at least discuss the text. I was left with the observation that neither one really knew what they were talking about with the liberal being the more guilty with her over-the-top agenda to make Jesus into some kind of collectivist.

First, the text implied in their discussion is not a parable. It really happened. O’Reilly is fond of saying that much of the Bible is allegory, meaning that the interpreter must look for a deeper meaning in a text rather than focusing on a literal  meaning and a more obvious plain meaning. O’Reilly’s views seem to line up with a traditional Catholic method of interpretation dating to medieval times. The above text (also found in Matthew and Mark) are neither parable nor allegory. It’s Jesus teaching on salvation by answering a question presented to him by a young man with a lot of money.

The rich young ruler starts the dialogue by asking what he must do inherit eternal life?

Jesus answers the question with a question of his own then a statement. He says, “why do you call me good, there is no one good except God.”

The question is rhetorical. Jesus does not pause for an answer.

The rich young ruler does not recognize Jesus as God, only as a good teacher. It would have been interesting if O’Reilly and his liberal guest would have dealt with this key question. Is Jesus God or merely a good teacher as the rich young ruler seemed to assume. I believe Jesus asked the question, why do you call me good in order to provoke the young man to ponder Jesus’ identity. Then as now, there could not be a more important question. There are consequences to believing that Jesus is just a good teacher just as there are consequences to be believing he is God.

Rather than wait for the rich young ruler to answer Jesus makes another statement. Jesus acknowledges that the man knows the commandments (law). Jesus mentions five specifically, “Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.”

The rich young ruler replies that he has kept all the commandments (the ones mentioned and the ones not mentioned) since he was a boy.

Jesus does not debate the veracity of the young man’s statement that he had kept the law [in its entirety]. Instead he says, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

As a stand alone statement it appears that the liberal Catholic professor is on to something. Jesus clearly says that the rich young man lacks one thing. But what dies he lack?

Remember that the young man is commandment oriented. He goes so far as to say he has kept the commandments. Which commandment does Jesus point to that the young man has not kept? Which of the Ten Commandments commands a person to sell all that he has and distribute all of it to the poor?

Answer. None. See Exodus 20:1-17. The law given to Moses and known to Jews like the rich young ruler says nothing about selling all that one owns and giving it all to the poor.

Yet, Jesus tells him he should sell everything, give it to the poor and he will reap treasure in heaven. Then Jesus adds, “come follow me.”

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21 ESV)

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(Matthew 6:21 ESV)

In other words, will the rich young ruler be willing to give up all his earthly treasure in order to follow Jesus. Think back to Jesus’ first question and first statement, why do you call me good, no one is good but God.

If the rich young ruler recognizes that Jesus is God then he will give up everything and follow him. This is born out later in the passage when Peter wonders what the fate of those will be who have given up all to follow Jesus. Jesus assures Peter and the other disciples that following him is the key to eternal life and reward (vs 28-30).

The rich young ruler is fixated on the giving up riches part of Jesus’ statement rather than the invitation to follow Jesus at the end of the statement. The young man is interested in eternal life but is more interested in holding on to an earthly treasure. The man’s treasure is his god and not Jesus.

Jesus was speaking to an educated Jew who by his own words said he kept the commandments. But did he?

“You shall have no other gods before me. “(Exodus 20:3 ESV)

The young man has not even kept the first commandment much less the other nine. The young man’s god was his treasure. He loved it more than he loved God. O’Reilly and his professor guest did not breach the key issue and instead argued about moralisms and their own version of works righteousness. They both misunderstand the gospel.

Jesus notices that the young man has become sad and says, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

It’s a drop the bomb type of statement and again as a stand alone statement seems to say if only the young man would sell all and give it all to the poor he would go through the eye of the needle and enter the kingdom of God.

More often than not Jesus’ questions and comments are designed to provoke thought. The passage deals with how a person obtains salvation. Jesus has just demonstrated that salvation is not obtained by keeping the law. The rich young ruler stumbled where all stumble, having other gods in our lives that crowd out the true God.Those that genuinely follow Jesus and trust in him and his finished work on the cross “get” the main issue of the heart and that is putting away all forms of idolatry in order to follow Christ. In other words, you cannot worship your treasure and worship God at the same time (Matt. 6:24).

The disciples are mystified by Jesus’ comment on how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. The text does not go into this but the average Jew believed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing due to the person’s ability to keep the law. The Pharisees were wealthy and if anyone was to be saved it would be them. Their question of who can be saved comes from that point of view. Jesus’ answer shatters their assumptions by answering, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

So, the rich can be saved because it is possible with God just as it is impossible with man. Why is it possible with God? Jesus does not say in the passage. He only says God can do it while man cannot. Among other things Jesus statement indicates the fruitless pursuit of works righteousness to inherit eternal life.

So, was Jesus a socialist or a capitalist? One thing is for certain, you can’t make either case from this passage.

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