The problem with riches

21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Mk. 10:21)

There is much that can be said here, but sometimes brevity is the soul of wit. There is just one point that I wish to make.

Think, for a moment, what Jesus is asking this young man to do. It isn’t that there is something wrong with his riches. Wealth comes from God, just as every other gift. And every gift of God is good.

But because of our sin and corruption, there is a corruption that generally comes with wealth which will drive us from Christ, just as it did this young man.

Jesus loved him, and wanted to embrace him, but Jesus desired this young man’s love in return. But like so many others, this man had a love that drove away all other loves. He loved the world and the things of the world and could not bear to let them go.

It wasn’t just that he liked baubles and trinkets. It isn’t the stuff that money buys that captivates the hearts of so many. It is the privilege that comes with money that so many cannot bear to be without.

Think about it. If this young man actually did what Jesus asked him to do, he would be poor.

I mean, really, really poor. “Sell all that you have”.

And not only that, he tells him to “take up the cross.”

A man who takes up his cross is the ultimate outcast. A man who takes up his cross is the outsider, the repugnant other, the criminal, the slave.

Not only does Jesus ask this young man to give up all of his money; He asks him to consider himself and all his position, standing, reputation, power, education, and breeding as dung.

But he is very rich. It sounds so crass, doesn’t it? we say to ourselves, “It is just money. I would have given it away in a second!”

Think more deeply.

To give away EVERYTHING is to be a pauper. You no longer have access to the courts. No longer have a seat at the gates. No longer have an in at the country club. No longer know where your next meal is coming from. No longer have the respect of the community. No longer know where you will live or sleep tonight.

You won’t have the rabbis stand when you enter the synagogue. You won’t have the good families trying to set you up with their daughters. You won’t catch the eyes of the young women (or the young men, for that matter).

You don’t know what or if you will eat. You won’t be able to protect yourself against Roman soldiers who demand that you carry the bag.

You will know what it is to walk through the marketplace and have the vendors give you the side eye to make sure you aren’t stealing.

You will know what it is to be followed by security to make sure you aren’t up to no good.

You will know what it is to be sneered at while you are lying on the sidewalk trying to rest just a little.

You will have absolutely nothing.

Except Jesus.

Is he really able to feed you? Is he really able to give you rest? Is he really able to provide for you all that your heart desires?

I am grieved to see  strength, power, authority and wealth being touted as virtues in evangelical circles. Of course, if we have those things we certainly ought to use them for the advantage and welfare of our neighbor, as Jesus has commanded us to.

But that isn’t what grieves me. What grieves me is that these things are considered Christian virtues.

The demand for authority, power, wealth and respect is the way to death and it will drive us away from Christ. The quest for “masculinity” disguised as a quest for Christ will lead to death.

Every time.

But if we count it all dung that we might know him and the power of the resurrection, we will live and have all that we desire in Him.

That is the point.

Is it good to be a man? If you are held in Jesus’ bosom, yes.

If you are a woman held in Jesus’ bosom, that is also good.

What matters is not “Who is in charge”?

What matters is whose bosom are you leaning on.

You can find your comfort and hope in riches, power and what everyone thinks about you.

Or you can rest in Jesus’ arms, like a lamb in the arms of his shepherd.

But you can’t do both.

Jesus wasn’t being cruel to this young man. He was inviting him to rest in his bosom. But he couldn’t do it, because he had too much at stake.

And so he lost everything.

We don’t know the whole story, though. I like to think that the day came when he lost everything and learned to count it as dung, so that he might know Christ. I just don’t know for sure.

2 Comments

Filed under Gospel, Love

2 responses to “The problem with riches

  1. Wow Sam, you nailed it again. Thank you.
    I’ve hear d its not who we are but whose we are. That doesn’t really make sense-our life shows who or what owns our heart.
    I’ve also heard that Barnabus was the rich young ruler- I like to think so. I like the happy ever after story’s.

  2. Anu Riley

    (Some of these thoughts came from a Bible commentary but are really good and relevant to Pastor’s post)

    After Christ healed the man who had been living in the tombs, he wanted to go with Him, but He told him no, and instead to go tell his testimony to others. Which he did.

    It’s just interesting; a man whose previous life was not much of a life at all, now healed and set free, and without even being asked, all he wanted to do was follow Him

    This rich man whose life was probably the envy of everyone around him, healthy and wealthy, but he chose not to follow Him when asked to.

    I’m like Pastor; I often wonder what happened to the latter. My hope is that given time to really think it over, he may have changed his mind. Christ’s answer thoroughly surprised him, but that doesn’t mean his initial rejection guaranteed a hardened heart of rejection.

    Pastor does a WONDERFUL job describing what it would look like to reject those riches. The Sermon on the Mount starts out with saying “blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

    The commentary I read delved into details about what that actually means. Turn Pastor’s words inside out, and there you have what it means to be “poor in Spirit.” From the inside out, we are spiritual paupers. Morally bankrupt. Noto one “penny” to our name. You have nothing to offer, nothing to bargain or barter with. You can only BEG. THAT is how badly we need Him.

    This would be humiliating if this was applied to anyone else but Christ. He honors this sort of brutally honest-type humility.

    The societal and worldly rejection Pastor brought up would be included as well. People WILL treat you differently if you make the claim that you now believe and behave differently than them. Even and especially those that profess Him. There are those that think that being poor in power is the REAL problem, not being poor in spirit.

    Being poor in purse is NOT the same as being poor in spirit; this is about the condition of your heart: “The demand for authority, power, wealth and respect is the way to death and it will drive us away from Christ.”

    I now wonder if we want to shine His light into the darkness, or rule OVER the darkness. But this never works. You cannot drive out the darkness by force, and you certainly can’t use any the power of the purse and/or privilege, either. Those are the things that only spread the dread that darkness is all about. I used to be so scared of the dark as a child. Adding MORE darkness to an already dark room doesn’t help. I plugged in a night light to feel less scared, more safe.

    The kind of people that helped me to NOT be so scared of the spiritual darkness did just that. They acted as night lights.

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