Post Title: The Vanity and Value of Materialism
Before discussing my third principle of what it might mean to live in and sojourn with a sukkah consciousness, I want to return to John 7 and 8. Not only did Jesus make his messianic proclamation during the living water ceremony in the temple, but he made another the very next day.
The other key symbol of the Temple liturgy during Sukkot was the burning of torches. Four great menorahs between 70 and 100 feet tall were constructed, illuminating the whole city of Jerusalem. At the end of the eighth day, the mighty menorahs were extinguished. Now that the lamps are out on the temple mount, Jesus says,
"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." ~ John 8:12
The Fall feast cycle is a unique and memorable time of year for us as disciples of Jesus. Our study's guiding image is the booth (sukkah), which represents the children of Israel dwelling in the wilderness. What do we learn by moving out into a temporary dwelling during this season of our rejoicing?
To sojourn with a sukkah-consciousness requires that:
First, we must confront the insecurity of our freedom. (Read Freedom to Grow)
Second, we must let go of those things which seem secure to grab ahold of total dependence upon God. (Read Challenging Illusions of Security)
Third, we must exercise discernment between the vanity and value of materialism.
The scroll of Ecclesiastes is read on the Sabbath that falls during Tabernacles. How curious that this text is chosen during the celebration of God's abundant provision evidenced in material prosperity. "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?"
And yet, the Preacher (Koheleth) teaches another lesson. I think it is particularly telling how we read right by it, without discernment. The lesson is that this world is also a place to be enjoyed: it is a place to drink, to be merry, to have fellowship. But—and this is the heart of the message—it is only God who can give you the gift to enjoy this material world truly.
The way to appreciate the gift of life is to live under the Son rather than merely under the sun.
I believe this is a powerful corrective to much of historical Christianity's tendency toward an ascetic, other-worldly view of life. Sukkot says this is a time for rejoicing. Enjoy the taste of food and drink like never before, "and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days."
You fasted on Yom Kippur—you denied yourself food, drink, and sexual relations. Now it is time to enjoy life as never before. As you recognize that life is fragile, it has become even more valuable to you. It is God, the source of every good gift that enables you to enjoy life.
Most Christians believe that fasting is a far more spiritual activity than feasting.
Sukkot says they both have their place under God's kingship and care. The repentance associated with Yom Kippur is essential, but only as it leads to Sukkot, the feast of rejoicing!
That is the paradox of Sukkot. We forgo comfort and convenience for seven days in a flimsy structure to be reminded that we have no prosperity apart from God. And yet, at the same time, we are reminded that we do prosper because of God.
Sukkot is the season to renew your appreciation for material prosperity. Now is the time to be thankful for your family, jobs, income, homes, and for every good thing that God has provided. A balanced, biblical discernment is what is need here.
On the one hand, we need to guard against the subtleness of idolatry surrounding material prosperity. On the other hand, it is right and good to have a materialistic dimension to our faith—properly understood.
Asceticism is not the way of biblical faith. The Word of God affirms life and reminds us that there is a time to celebrate divine provision. It also teaches us to use material wealth as an opportunity to both meet personal needs and to care for others.
According to Israel's sages, one indication that you have the right relationship with your material prosperity is your generosity towards the needy. Do you have an evil eye? Asks Jesus. Are you miserly, stingy, covetous? Then you are serving Mammon. Or do you have a good eye, characterized by giving to and caring for those in need? Then you have discerned that material possessions are a gift from God, and it is a steward's duty and delight to share.
We cannot love life if we do not live it well. We will not live life well until we love it as God intends.
The powerful prophet Zechariah declares something about the Feast that transcends where we are now by looking to the future, the great King's return to reign over a transformed world. Sukkot has eschatological implications for, "the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one." (14:9)
When the LORD comes back to rule and reign from the new Jerusalem, we will go up, together with faithful Israel, to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. There will no longer be a need for Passover (it is finished) or Pentecost (it is fulfilled), but there will be a continuing place for the rejoicing attending the Feast of Tabernacles.
Such rejoicing there will be on that great day of the Lord!
Yet even now, we are offered a foretaste. Today we are invited to praise, worship, and be altogether joyful in the presence of the LORD. The Passover work of crucifixion and resurrection is complete. The Pentecost work of temple building and indwelling is fulfilled. Now is the time for the Tabernacle work of celebration.
The King is in our midst. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!"
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
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