by Philip McPherson Rudisill
Sitting here at Ft. Mountain after breakfast, enjoying a coffee and a cigarette (which I permit myself only when camping), I noticed the birds scurrying about and realized (with Jesus) that while they are very busy, they are devoid of fear about what they shall eat or wear. And then I reflected and realized that if we truly believed in a loving, all powerful Father, we would also go about our daily business without the least worry about tomorrow. This is perhaps given its most pithy expression in the famous Wesleyan dictum to work as though everything depended upon us, and to pray (and think) as though it all depended upon God. Now when we seek to integrate that attitude into our own lives, we find that we are intimidated by the common experience of mankind, for indeed there is (or seems to be) much to worry about, as any sane observer would most surely confirm. And the question can easily (and indeed must most naturally) arise: if God is so powerful and so loving then why do so many people (or even one person) suffer? But here we may be jumping to a conclusion, for our common experience is already predicated upon fear of shortages and the resultant proclivity to tear down our own, personal barns in order to build larger ones in order to avoid shortages, but which then in turn works for shortages on a social level and thus shortages mutually for each other, and so this experience feeds itself by producing the very reason of the fear of shortages which it is based upon. But Jesus is telling us that this need not be our experience any more, and if we could only begin thinking and acting truly as the (Wesleyan) maxim suggests, then an entirely different experience might be forthcoming. For as increasing numbers of people refuse to take for themselves any more than they might reasonable need in the short run, this would work for a greater surplus for those who now function so fearfully. Perhaps this is much of the purpose of the calling of the Christian to accept Jesus' advice and to comply with the Golden Rule and, therefore, to begin to have this new experience come into being. Thus, it seems to me, that the Christians are called upon, like the Roman Catholics of the Nagasaki parish (decimated in the infamous blast), to dedicate themselves to God each day in Christ and to look at themselves as sheep for his slaughter (for disposition according to his pleasure), knowing, in faith, that this will also work to the common good (although not necessarily in an immediate, obvious and empirical sense) and that by virtue of this dedication God's will is more greatly facilitated, to the end that His Reign then indeed enters upon the earth. What a joy it is to have that conception as our fundamental Weltanschauung (look at the world) and to live in that consciousness (which is what I think John Wesley had in mind when he spoke of entering into eternal life now)!
The iconic contrast, in my mind, is given by the (imagined) exchange between Francis (of Assisi) and his father, where the latter would ask, "Why would you pay more than you have to?" (in order to get right with God, for example, and which question is the epitome of human rationality when applied to ourselves as beings with personal needs and in a world of shortages); and where the former would ask in his turn, "Why would you give less than you can?" thinking, as he did, that he were a member of a community (called the Kingdom of God) where each person would give without counting, and one member of which was God Himself, and thus where each member is exceedingly rich).
The question that every Christian must finally come to grips with (in my opinion) is this: was Francis insane? But, if we decide that he was not insane, then the further question of why it is that God will not produce the transformation of the world except through willing humans is beyond our capacity ever to answer; although a hint may lie in this consideration: it is only in unselfish giving that we can come to identify ourselves with the very Heart of God and to participate in that heart; and that experience [of identity with the Heart of God (in Christ), both as a memory of our existence in earthly garb and as an on going fact of our very being beyond death] may prove to be worth more than all the things that "this spacious world can afford".
My work with Kant and Wesley is to bring the argument so far as to see that Francis was not insane, and that the life of Christ makes a great deal of sense, although this answer will be found only through the life and experience that arise via faith. Augustine once stated that understanding could not precede faith, but would arise upon it. In this vein the Wesleyan adds that the person who trusts in Christ will not remain the same, but rather will become a new person and this will be experienced in life itself (although the degree of the manifestation of the transformation will be partially a function of our opportunity, as we see in a comparison of the life of Zacchaeus and the thief on the cross*).
*These two fellows happen to be the only people that Jesus explicitedly stated were headed to heaven. Others were too, of course, but he only said the words concerning these two. One was helpless and the other did many good works, but they were similar in that both believed Jesus.
[By the way, as I read the Sermon on the Mount again, and since the setting is Palestine, I think we can easily imagine that many non-Jews were in the crowd. If so then it would make sense to cite the Second of the two Great Commandments alone (as Jesus did in this context), for, as I have long held, it is by means of the dedication (and resulting practical adherence) to the Second Commandment that the transformation begins which results in the recognition of the power of God, whereupon then a love of God wells up naturally, and so not merely ritualistically, but spontaneously and as a function of spirit, and whereupon then God Himself will have produced compliance with the First Commandment (and which I think was the opinion of John Wesley).]