Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rich, Young American Christian

I've been haunted for some time now by the story of the Rich Young Ruler. This morning the story showed up again in the podcast I listen to each morning (pray-as-you-go out of the UK). Basically, this very sincere, earnest, wealthy young man throws himself at the feet of Jesus. He desires eternal life and he has spent his entire life doing all the right things. Still, he senses he is missing something and he thinks Jesus may know what that is. Jesus does know, and tells the man that he lacks only one thing - he needs to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor, then come and follow Jesus. The young man is deeply grieved and he turns and walks away.

This command is such a hard one. Who wants to give up their possessions? Jesus follows it by explaining to his disciples how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God. It almost seems cruel - this sincere, obedient, earnest and good man is told that he has to give up everything he owns in order to get what he says he really wants. This morning I was struck by a line right in the middle of the story.

Jesus looked on this man and loved him.

It wasn't because Jesus was cruel that he issued this instruction. It was out of his love. I wonder if the man realized that. He was torn between all his many possessions and the love of Jesus.

As I said, this passage haunts me. We're not wealthy by American standards, but we certainly are by world standards. And when I think about ministry with the poor that we are feeling pulled toward, I know it will require sacrifices, including possessions. We're really earnest and sincere and here we are asking Jesus, not without some trepidation, "what do you want us to do?" And we are holding our breath to hear what it is Jesus might say to us. Will we follow? Or will we go away grieving?


MICHAEL said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You

Rachel said...

I've heard so many sermons and Bible lessons over the years that neatly explain away this passage, asserting that it doesn't matter how much wealth we have, as long as our wealth isn't "where our heart is." But that interpretation downplays Jesus' command and completely ignores the issue of justice for the poor.

Karlene, thanks for encouraging us to wrestle with the challenging message of this teaching. I pray that I will hear God's command for my own life and be willing to obey.