Matthew returned to Dallas Theological Seminary and completed his degree. After he had completed his final exams, Matthew’s father arrived with his mother and sister and a camera crew in a big 4 X 4.
“Matthew, we’ve hired the city hall for the day,” said his father. “Millions of people want to hear your first sermon. We’re going to be on God TV. It’s going out live.”
Matthew stood on the stage at the front of the city hall. He held a tattered and torn pocket Bible he had bought from a second hand bookshop.
“Turn to Luke 12 verse 33,” he said. “Sell that ye have and give alms: provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.’ Jesus wants you to sell all you have and give the money to the poor. What he said to the rich young man, he says to you. Sell that posh surburban house of yours and go and live with the poor people in the city. Oh, you love those little bracelets with the letter WWJD on them, what would Jesus do? Well, come on, this is what Jesus would do. He lived amongst the poor. When was the last time you had a cup of tea with an ex-heroin addict, or played football with someone who was penniless and unemployed? Oh, but I don’t want to live in a poor inner city area. They might break my windows. They might set fire to my car. Then you look down at that little bracelet on your wrist. What would Jesus do? Do you really think he’d get a posh house in the suburbs with a lock up garage and burglar alarms? Jesus didn’t play it safe. Jesus took risks. Jesus would be right down there, talking to the gangs, wouldn’t he? Or would he be too afraid of having his mobile phone stolen? Of course not. I shouldn’t think he’d worry about his little possessions. Oh, but I wouldn’t feel safe. Did Jesus feel safe? WWJD. What would Jesus do? Could I have a medic please? There’s a man down there who seems to be having an epileptic fit. Oh, it’s my father.”
Mrs. Otley tried to comfort her husband. “Darling, it’s all right.”
“No Honey, it isn’t. It isn’t all right, is it?”
“Darling, you’re thrashing about like a baby.”
“I’m going to cry like a baby, Honey, I need to cry like a baby.”
“Matthew’s just doing what he wants to do with his life. It’s doing no one any harm.” A paramedic in uniform came up.
“Are you all right, Sir?”
“Yes,” replied Mrs. Otley. “It’s just over excitement.”
“Quiet,” shouted someone nearby. “Keep your voices down. He’s still preaching.”
“Now, how about giving away 90% of your money and living on the other tenth? I wonder how many of us could do that.”
Matthew came down from the stage and sat down next to his father. “Are you feeling all right, Dad? Your eyes look red.”
“No, I’m not feeling all right. Do you know how many people were watching?”
“No Matthew, not millions, actually one or two billion. That is so embarrassing. Son, I will never retire. I will work until I drop. After that, they can keep the work going because it’s all recorded. People still listen to Vernon McGee on the radio. He died in 1989. They’ll run the ministry even after I’m dead. Possibly for hundreds of years. People still read Wesley’s sermons. You can take my pension money, Son, go and live with those people in Portland and do whatever you like. Just leave this ministry alone.”
Matthew was given an interview about his final year project by two professors.
“It’s very interesting,” said one. “I appreciate the quality of your research. You actually went to live with these people for a year. Very courageous.”
“For someone from your family background, going to such a dangerous part of America was very commendable,” said the other professor. “But I have had to mark you down because I find your view very extreme.”
“Mr. Otley,” said the first professor, “do you really believe that Jesus wants people to sell all they have?”
“Are you aware of the Bible scholar’s joke, Mr. Otley, that has the punchline, ‘Judas hanged himself, go and do likewise?’ We encourage responsible Bible scholarship in this seminary.”
Matthew answered, “Jesus repeats the command, ‘Go, sell all you have,’ in Luke chapter 12. He didn’t just say it once to the rich young man. He’s repeating it to the masses.”
“What does he mean?” asked the second professor.
“The command to sell your possessions is far stronger than simply saying, live in comfort and pay your 10%. The Bible speaks about those who gave more than they could afford out of their poverty, but joyfully gave out of the overflow of their hearts. How much more should the rich give?”
“Your views are very commendable, Mr. Otley, but they are not based on sound Biblical scholarship. The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil, not possession of money, not even accumulation of money, but love of money.”
“What’s the difference?” asked Matthew.
“You can have as much money as you like as long as you don’t worship it,” said the first professor. “The Bible talks about the cheerful giver, Mr. Otley, a Christian should earn all they can and then give away what they can give cheerfully.”
Matthew replied, “If we’re talking about context, we can see in the chapter before that the letter to the church in Corinth is talking about the sacrificial giving of the churches in Macedonia, who gave more than they could afford to out of their poverty, it is not referring to the miserly giving of a wealthy Christian who’s giving what they can afford while saving up for a new Cadillac and a holiday in Bermuda.”
“If you had a family,” said the second professor, “you would be imposing your spirit of self sacrifice on them.”
“Nowhere does the Bible say our children should go around dressed in rags,” said the first professor.
“Where does the Bible say that they should go around in designer trainers?” asked Matthew. The professors looked at each other.
“The research is good enough for a first,” said the first professor.
“I agree,” said the second, “but the interpretation of the Scriptures is very controversial.” The second professor turned around to Matthew and continued, “Mr. Otley, we’re awarding a second class degree because we don’t think there is enough evidence for this controversial statement in the Scriptures, the expectation that anyone who is a true Christian should sell their home in the suburbs and go and live in the inner city. That is not sound Biblical scholarship.”
Emmanuel Woodhouse phoned Matthew.
“Hi, Matthew. I didn’t realise you were Rob Otley’s son.”
“Yes, I am.”
“You never said.”
“I always wanted to be seen for what I am, not simply to ride on the reputation of Pastor Rob Otley.”
“I understand. You were a great help to us, Matthew. Do you want to come back here? My wife and I miss you.”
“Yes, I will.”
A few days later Matthew sat down with Mr. and Mrs. Woodhouse in their home. He shared their simple meal of meatballs that tasted like sausages, spaghetti hoops and potatoes.
“This is good food,” said Matthew. “You can taste the chemicals. Not like the sanitised rubbish that my father serves on his boat.”
“What are you going to do now?” asked Emmanuel.
“My father’s going to keep working, and he’s giving me his pension. I want to start a satellite TV station that calls people to live a life of self sacrifice. We can all be on it. It’s going to be called 12:33 TV, after Luke 12 verse 33.” Mr. Woodhouse opened his faded, worn out Bible and read, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”
Matthew presented his first programme on 12:33 TV.
“Elijah was hiding from the wicked woman Jezebel. He spent the night in a cave. Then the Lord said, ‘Go and stand on the mountain.’ Then there was wind, but God was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. Then there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. Then there was a still small voice. And the still small voice said, ‘What’s the matter Elijah?’ He said, ‘They’ve killed all the prophets, and now they’re trying to kill me too. I’m the only one left.’ God said, ‘I have seven thousand that have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ Elijah wasn’t the only one left. I’m not the only one left. I’m looking for seven thousand Christians worldwide who have not bowed the knee to money. Will you be one of those Christians? Will you sell your comfortable house in the suburbs and move to the inner city? With the money you save, you could sponsor a hundred children in the third world.” Pastor Emmanuel Woodhouse appeared on the screen.
“I am the pastor of a church in Portland, Oregon. My name is Emmanuel Woodhouse. I live in Portland with my wife. We don’t get much money from the church, we just have our pensions. We live very simply, just enough food to keep us healthy. Yes, we’ve been burgalled and robbed a few times but who cares, those are just things. I’m more alive now than I’ve ever been.” Another member of the church appeared.
“Hello, I’m Ronnie. I used to be a heroin addict.” He showed the pin pricks under his arms. “All I can say is, Jesus healed me. And if you’re a heroin addict, he can do the same for you.”