The Rich Young Ruler & Me
Are you ready for this? Here’s an extreme example from the Bible: Jesus actually commanded someone to clean out! We’re talking a major purge here, one involving all the man’s possessions. Not only did Jesus model a minimalistic lifestyle, but he was not hesitant to ask it of a wealthy man of standing in the community. This is so central to my own struggles that I both desire and hesitate to share it with you.
I find comfort in wealth. When I have it, it reassures me of my self-sufficiency. When I don’t, it puts me in a dither. After a decade of my husband making a living as a musician and entertainer, our income largely dependent on tips, I have learned not to panic in a low month. But, I don’t know that I have really learned to trust, learned not to rely on the tempting sense of security wealth offers. So, I get this guy and sympathize with his response.
A man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
And Jesus said to him… “You know the commandments…”
And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
And the disciples were amazed at his words.
Mark 10: 17b-24a (ESV)
A man, a “certain ruler” in some translations, approached Jesus, asking him what he must do to gain eternal life. He was an upstanding, commandment-following individual; he also happened to be rich. Jesus gave him a command, telling him to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. Then he told the young man to follow him. This command was specifically designed for the rich young ruler, but he couldn’t do it. He “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
This was not a universal command, given to everyone who followed Christ. Obviously, it was designed to get right to the heart of the matter with that particular person. The ruler’s heart was set on earthly possessions, so although he had an important question and received an answer from the ultimate Teacher, he wasn’t happy with the result. So, how does this command pertain to you and me?
Someone once encouraged me to think through the response I would have if a similar requirement was given to me. I must say, I didn’t like the idea. At the time, the thought of giving up my possessions was difficult. Now, a couple decades later, the thought of losing what I own is far less disturbing than the thought of giving the proceeds to the poor. That is not particularly attractive. (What, you mean I don’t even get to set aside 6 months of living expenses and an emergency fund first? What about good stewardship, shouldn’t I make sure they use it well? I wouldn’t want someone else to mismanage my “gift”, after all.)
There is nothing inherently sinful about being rich and owning many possessions. However, Jesus had a lot of disparaging things to say about the rich, which should cause us to sit up and pay attention because we are rich. Globally and historically, Americans are among the wealthiest people ever known.
I have lived in several different Arizona locations; although close geographically, they are very different places economically. The 2018 median income in these cities ranged from $33,000 to $76,000, approximately. Despite this great difference in income potential, I have been surprised by the similarity in conversations about money. In short, we all seem to be easily worried about money. We are concerned we won’t have it when we need it, or that we won’t be able to buy the things we see as necessities.
Perhaps God is not calling me to sell all I have and give it to the poor. This was, after all, a command specifically targeted to topple the idol of one man. I think it is significant for all of us, though, because he ended the conversation by saying that it would be difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. He knew how incredibly attractive material wealth and financial security would be to his followers.
I think that one thing I know for sure is that God is not calling me to pursue life wrapped in a cocoon of wealth, ease, and convenience. I know for sure that my thoughts should not dwell on temporal financial security, nor should all my goals be wrapped up in the things or experiences that my money can buy for me. In other words, he is not calling me to live my life in pursuit of self. Buying fewer possessions, collecting less wealth for myself, is one way of doing that.
Photo by Paweł Furman on Unsplash