Jesus was the ultimate minimalist. Having nothing, Jesus taught us to focus not on our status or our possessions, but on how we can live open-handedly and generously in community with others. In today’s passage from the book of Matthew, Jesus gives us an imperative not found in many other religions:
"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them… But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” (6:1-4)
Jesus consistently sided against the religious establishment throughout his ministry. He called them a brood of vipers when they stirred up a crowd to come after him in Matthew 12, he called them thieves in Matthew 21 when he found that they were using the temple to make a profit, and in Matthew 23 he called them hypocrites, saying:
“You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of bones. On the outside you look righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
If Jesus were here today, what would he think of the modern Church? When pastors use his name to justify buying private jets, when we live selfishly and take advantage of others while also claiming to be religious…
It’s not that Jesus was against organized religion—he grew up in and taught in the temple—it’s just that he wanted the people who claimed to be representatives of God to act like it! Love people, serve people, meet the needs of your community, make peace, settle conflicts, be with the sick—these were Jesus’ ideals. When Jesus criticized the religious establishment it was like a loving big brother chiding his younger sibling.
Jesus tells us to beware of practicing our religion in public like those of religious establishment do. They make such a spectacle of their righteousness and their holiness that it’s clear they care much more about their own glory than bringing glory to God. Jesus’ idea of religion is religion that isn’t self-serving, it serves others.
Jesus’ brother James said, “True religion is caring for widows and orphans.” I say this often, all through the Bible we see that God is always on the side of the poor, needy, orphaned, widowed, anxious, ill, and oppressed. So for the religious person, be careful not to practice your religion so loudly that God diminished and you are exalted. Jesus’ cousin John said, “He must increase and I must decrease."
For the minimalist, I think the principle applies: Be careful not to practice your minimalism so loudly that others feel stifled, burdened, or oppressed by your views. The Apostle Paul said, “Lead a quiet life, mind your own business, work with your hands.” It’s great that you feel you want to simplify your life. Feel free to share your experiences as well!
Only, don’t expect everyone to understand or buy in. And if someone decides they’d rather be $10,000 in credit card debt with a TV in every room of the house, don’t judge.