Next to the window in my study, where I can’t but see it every day, there’s a framed cartoon from an old edition of the National Lampoon. It’s a spoof of a Medici rose window from the cathedral in Florence, and depicts a laughing camel leaping with ease through the eye of a needle. The superscription reads: “a recurring motif in works commissioned by the wealthier patrons of Renaissance religious art,” while the Latin inscription on the window itself is “Dives Vincet,”or “Wealth Wins!”
In these days of Enron, Martha Stewart and wars waged over phantom weapons, we know better than to defend dishonesty. Then why would Jesus offer a parable lauding it? Upon closer inspection, however, this parable is just one in a long line of stories that Jesus tells about how to handle wealth.
The best storytellers paint pictures with words, using them to fill our minds with vivid imagery. I remember reading the first Harry Potter novel to my first-grade son. Each time we completed a chapter and I turned the page to start a new one he would shift in my lap and look away from the book. Finally I asked him what was wrong. He replied, “I don’t want to see the drawing on the first page of the chapter because I want to think about what things look like all by myself.”
I got into trouble once. Big trouble. I was enjoying myself at a barbecue supper with several clergy in a small northern Kentucky town. When we ran out of some food items, I volunteered to drive my MG—with the top down, of course—to find a grocery store. I was on my way back to the barbecue when a local officer nailed me for speeding.
Paul was in Rome, the epicenter of empire, the magnet for people on the lam such as fugitive slaves. He was a “prisoner of Christ Jesus” not only because the Messiah had captured his heart but also because he had boldly proclaimed the grace and peace he had found. Somehow, through the Christian grapevine, Onesimus found Paul and sought shelter with him. Now Onesimus is going back to his owner.