In today’s lesson, the rich young man turns away from Jesus, unable to fulfill the law. He asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus says that he must love God with all his heart, by not murdering, committing adultery, not stealing, not lying, and loving his neighbor as himself. Feeling like he has done all these things, he says, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?”
Jesus goes on to tell him that in order to inherit eternal life he must sell his possessions and give his money to the poor, and then come and follow him.
This story is one of great trouble to a culture built on consumerism and commercialism. Must we sell all we have? Must we give away all we have to the poor? I have heard this text preached a number of times here in America, usually filled with justifications about how the rich young ruler is different than we are. There are justifications of how we can really keep our money, and excuses given to how the rich young man’s real problem was that he loved his money more than God. It wasn’t his possessions that were the problem, but his mindset.
My rebuttal is simple: How is that different from this country? Is our mindset any different? Here we are, gearing up for Christmas already. And how? With the biggest shopping day of the year – Black Friday.
We horde as many things as we can, so much so that our houses are not big enough and we have to get a storage unit just to house it all. Do we really love our possessions less than the rich young ruler? Do we love our money any less than the rich young man?
Suze Orman, the financial guru, has a saying that has stuck with me, and which I mentioned in a recent sermon. Decades ago, our values were such that we loved the following three things in this order: 1) People, 2) Money, 3) Things. These days, she argues, we have mixed those up, so that in our secular culture today it is: 1) Things, 2) People, 3) Money.
I find this to be true. If Suze and I are right, we have problems! First, People no longer come first, with Things vaulting in importance to People. Secondly, and perhaps more troubling, Things are valued more than Money. This is partly why we have sky high credit card debt and mortgages that eat us alive. I believe she is right.
What are we to do with this story of the rich young ruler? How are we to respond? Is there anything we need to do to amend our lives? Are we challenged in any way? Or are we OK with justifying how we live and not changing at all.
Ultimately I believe that God wants all of us to be rich. God wants us to enjoy life, and enjoy it fully. But it cannot come at the expense of others. And until we are all rich, our job is not done. Now if that sounds dangerously close to socialism, perhaps it is because it is.
Yes, the gospel is scary. It shakes our country’s values to its foundation. It rattles cages. It makes some mad. It leaves some of us exasperated. But there it is: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”