It is hard to find Christian hymns that embody Scripture's sharp critique of the rich and the dangers of wealth. There are positive songs about simplicity ("Simple Gifts") and exhortations not to cling to earthly goods (the German Lutheran chorales "A Mighty Fortress" and "Jesus, Priceless Treasure"), but not much on the actual dangers of wealth.
Scripture's sharp-edged message about the danger of wealth is not restricted to the Magnificat. One of my favorite gospel songs adapts Jesus' story of the rich man and Lazarus—"Rusty Old Halo" by Hoyt Axton. Unfortunately, Axton of "Joy to the World (Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog)" fame blunted the parable by reducing the fires of hell to "a rusty old halo, skinny white cloud, robe that's so wooly it scratches."
There's a refreshingly unusual folk ballad on Keith and Kristyn Getty's new album, Hymns for the Christian Life. Think of "Simple Living" as the musical equivalent of Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo's Red Letter Revolution. Unlike Axton's soft-pedaling, the Getty-Stuart Townend songwriting team gives Jesus' dialogue with the rich young ruler a transparent treatment. They hone the sharp edge of Jesus' advice: "Sell all you have; give to the poor. / Then heaven's treasure shall be yours." Francis of Assisi couldn't have said it more pointedly.
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© 2013 Kendall S. Harmon. All rights reserved.
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