28 October 2005

Rich Young Ruler

So the other day my BrickFriend wrote a post in which he mused about Jesus' command to a rich young man to "sell everything" and follow Him. You should read the post because it's quite good and there are several comments after it which are also good. They led me to do a lot of thinking. And then I went back to the text and did some reading because I wanted to read the story again and see just what was going on, who was Jesus talking to and what exactly did He say to him. It's in the Gospel according to Mark (chapter 10) and it's pretty short ... so here it is:

17As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
18"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good�except God alone. 19You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother."
20"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."
21Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
22At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
24The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
26The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"
27Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
28Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"
29"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields�and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first."


You know, I'm sorry, but Jesus comes off sounding sort of like a mystical lunatic in this passage. If we're really honest here, this is not a passage where Jesus sounds particularly sane or makes a lot of sense to our Western, 20th century ears. And I love Him. I really do.

I struggle with this. Because it looks like Jesus is saying, "Sell everything and follow me. That's how you do the Christian thing." And there are certainly some people who do that. Catholic priests, nuns, monks and others like that come to mind. But after having walked this Christian walk for some 15 years now, I'm not certain Jesus was laying down a command here. I've got several reasons for this.

First, the few times that Jesus laid down commands, he was very clear about it. He said things like, "This command I give to you ..." And then the command he gave was fairly broadly brushed. Things like love God and your neighbor. He wasn't into narrow brushes. Which isn't to say his commands are easy. They are difficult. Have you ever tried to love your neighbor as yourself? HONESTLY now. Have you? It's hard and if you're truly honest you've got some kind of pyramid scheme going in your head, where you and your family are at the top and get the best stuff and then maybe your extended family and your bestest friends and then the pyramid extends down from there ... and where does your "neighbor" fit into that scheme? Shouldn't everyone get the best stuff? Why should it be ranked and reserved for you and yours? See what I mean? We all do it ... that's human nature and it's what Jesus was asking us to work against when he lay down that commandment ... but I digress.

Second, if you read the story above again, you'll notice something about the rich young man. He was rich. That's really the only thing we know about him. We can surmise some things about him from that statement. Primarily from that we know he loved "stuff." Jesus knew what he loved and Jesus knew that that "stuff" was going to get in the way of the young man's relationship with Him. That the "stuff" was going to prevent the young man from following Him. There are some people who can have stuff and it doesn't tie them down, because they don't particularly care about it ... they hold it loosely. There are others for whom it is an anchor.

So I finally realized that "stuff" wasn't really the issue in this story. Nor were riches, or parents, or children, or camels, or needles. Altho they all could be. What Jesus was really saying and it took me so long to get was that we need to drop the things (whatever they may be) that keep us from following after Him. And we need to do it in a bold way. For the rich, young ruler in this story that meant selling his stuff and giving the money to the poor ... for that guy, that was a shock, but it might not be a shock to the next guy (and it obviously wasn't a shock to the disciples ... they were pretty pious about it, don't you think?). So I now have the job of figuring out what's keeping me back, what's tying me down. How do I drop it? How do we all?

6 Comments:

Blogger kate said...

Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Thanks for something meaty to chew on this morning.

10/28/2005 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Ross said...

There's a lot here to chew on indeed!

Honestly, it feels somehow dangerous to try to disect this.. like the only reason I'm doing it is to find a loophole so I don't have to feel guilty about not obeying it. Anyway, I think there are some cool clues here about this guy:

1 - He was instructed to give it to the poor... not to the Temple (where he'd be rewarded, or at least get a good tax deduction :) My guess is, from his attitude, he was a high roller in the church ("I've never done any of these things..aren't I wonderful?") so Jesus just buries him "Why do you call me good? You wouldn't know good if it bit you". So, Jesus basically is saying, if you want to be with me and see what the Kingdom looks like, you need to come off your high horse and spend some time on the streets with me. Would he sell that place in Great Falls to live in a group house in Southeast? I don't think so.

2 - The fact that it's recorded at all... Although this might come as a shock to some people, the Bible wasn't recorded in a studio or captured on tape like Watergate. It was transcribed after the fact by people who heard and remembered the stories. Literally, Mark was probably sitting in his condo writing a draft and Andrew came along and said "Hey, don't forget that one about the rich guy.. that was a great story" (all with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course :) The fact that it illustrates an instance where someone DIDN'T join "the team" is worth noting. I can't help but think that they included the story to point that out, more than because it was a universal command for future generations to obey.

3 - The whole "follow me" thing has really been blown out of proportion in my opinion. This doesn't mean that the only good Christians are those who physically leave something or someplace. If that were the case, every "good" Christian example in the NT would acknowledge that... "follow me" was illustrative of "do what I do", and that is indeed the example we see set forth in the NT. How was the rich young ruler not able to "follow"? Because he was a pompous ass who was more concerned about status than loving others. If we can't at least that that away from this story, there's something wrong.

So all that to say, I think it's an issue of the heart and the secret key is found in Jesus Himself, rather than in "commands", implied or otherwise.

10/28/2005 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger kate said...

I find it interesting, too, that Jesus "looked at him and loved him." I don't know why that's so interesting. I guess it strikes me as one of the many bittersweet Jesus moments in the Gospels -- he appreciated the effort (hi, Peter), but it wasn't directed in quite the right way or from the right heart. Or something.

10/28/2005 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

...isn't every person who might read this 'rich'?

10/28/2005 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger Ross said...

indeed

10/28/2005 08:32:00 PM  
Blogger aBhantiarna Solas said...

Yep ... but I don't think the point is whether or not we're rich, it's what we're willing or not willing to give away and to whom. What about yous guys?

10/28/2005 08:39:00 PM  

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