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    painting by Van Gogh of grapes, apples, pears, and oranges

    Forsaking Mammon

    Community is not compulsory, but it is rather a joyful act of surrender.

    By Andreas Ehrenpreis

    April 3, 2022

    We can see many clear signs that show the way to true love and community. But it is quite wrong to accuse us of making life in community a matter of compulsion. By no means. It is Another who demands it and compels us to it; but neither He nor we want to force anyone. Never! Whoever is not driven by love and an inner calling should leave it alone. It is an urgent longing for enduring life and joy, it is fear of God’s wrath, that drives us and urges us to obey Him. That is the source of community life. It is not we men. It is not our invention. It cannot be our undertaking. Many of us have had a livelihood and property and a strong self-will. We liked it all, too. We felt comfortable in it. But love for Christ and for the poor drove us to do what we do and confess to now. It was the recognition of God. So we found out the truth of the saying, “If you want the one, you must let the other go.” We recognized the truth that no one can obey two masters. We cannot belong to God and Mammon at the same time (Matt. 6:24).

    Thus it is a decision of the will, not compulsion. Among the Jews it is left to the guest to decide whether he will partake of the Passover meal or not (Exod. 12:48). He can take it or leave it. Jesus points again and again to man’s will: “If anyone wants to follow me, he must go the way of death” (Matt. 16:24–26). “If you want life, you must keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). And the Lord let the unwilling man go his own way.

    painting by Van Gogh of grapes, apples, pears, and lemons

    Vincent van Gogh, Still Life with Apples, Pears, Lemons and Grapes (Public domain)

    But Jesus wants more than our good will. He wants us to have joy in it, the joy of one who has lost something of little value and found a priceless treasure, like the man in the parable of the Kingdom who, in pure joy and without any compulsion, sells all he has for the sake of this new treasure (Matt. 13:44). It means more to him than all the money, all the riches, and all the property in the world. Therefore we should not set store by what is petty and worthless, but give it up for the sake of the one and only treasure. That is the best exchange we can make in life. It is the source of permanent well-being, expressed in enduring life, enduring joy, and genuine happiness. Whoever does not want to act out of this good will, this deeply surrendered will, whoever does not want to act for the sake of God and the poor, should leave it alone.

    Some people are not without light and recognition of the truth, yet they do not want to step completely into the light. They hinder others from seeing the full light because they still love wealth and its benefits. They have enough recognition to see that on the Day of reckoning, self-seeking will not be justified and praised. But to excuse themselves they claim that community living is an endless source of dissent and strife, as if Christ who is the Lord, the apostles, and the Holy Spirit did not know what they were doing when they brought community life into being. They may be taking certain unhappy marriages as a parallel; husband and wife live together in disunity, and of them it is unfortunately said that they love each other best at a distance. But in a good marriage it is different. Each one bears with the weaknesses of the other. Both together bear joy and sorrow as they come (1 Cor. 7, Eph. 5).

    Jesus wants more than our good will. He wants us to have joy in it, the joy of one who has lost something of little value and found a priceless treasure.

    How much more does that apply to the new life of community, in which a whole people of God should bear with one another in love and forgive each other everything! They make allowances for each other. They can never forsake each other because of human weakness. They do not desert each other. We know very well that Jesus turned sharply on Peter (Matt. 16:23, John 13). We know of disputes among the first disciples. Did they therefore desert one another? Could the unity of the Spirit be lost on this account? Or shall the communal life of Christ and His apostles be despised or rejected on this account? That is impossible. Now we can understand why Christ, who is our Lord, insists so much upon reconciliation and forgiveness (Matt. 5:21–26).

    Even at the time of the early Christians there was plenty of unpleasantness among the believers. Was the unity of the Spirit lost because of that? The Church remained united in spite of it, that one Church to which we must listen if we do not want to be outside. It would be wonderful if a people of God could live in uninterrupted peace, completely without blemish or defilement or any hateful thing. But because of our human weakness, such disturbances happen all the time. One ought never, on account of such shortcomings and weaknesses, to reject a whole people. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

    These things will not be an obstacle to anyone who is intent on building up Church community for the sake of love and salvation. He will be filled with a burning zeal to build up a living organism and to make the sacrifices demanded by the Spirit. That includes the surrender of all his possessions and all his strength in true service to God. He surrenders his whole self (Rom. 12). That is how he finds true Gelassenheit.* If a light is to burn, it must consume itself. That is the only way it can give light (Matt. 5:14, 15).

    *Gelassenheit has no equivalent in one word in English. Its meaning includes the grateful acceptance of whatever God gives, even suffering and death, the forsaking of all self-will, all selfishness, and all concern for private property.

    Contributed By

    Andreas Ehrenpreis (1589–1662) was a church leader of the Hutterians who became Elder during the Thirty Years’ War. On account of stiff persecution many members were in low spirits at that time, having lost their zeal for community of goods. Andreas Ehrenpreis revived their urge to return to a disciplined and renewed life in community.

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