Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Rich Young Ruler

Let’s examine this pericope.  It has many interesting points.

First, this rich man comes to Jesus and then falls on his knees.  He is at least outwardly showing respect here.  Some translations say he knelt.  In either case, these are signs of reverence.

Signs of reverence continue when he addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher.”  Before Jesus responds to this salutation, the man presents his question.

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

This is an interesting combination of words.  What must I do to inherit?  Inheritance is something passed on by nature of something already in existence.  Many Jews thought that because they came from Abraham they would inherit whatever God had in store for them.

Normally, if you say what must I do, the second part of the question would be to earn whatever it is that might be in store for me.

This is interesting but probably not unusual.  The Hebrew people knew the law and when they did not follow it, there were prescribed sacrifices to be made.  It was very transactional in many ways.

Jesus countered asking, “Why do you call me good?  There is only One who is good and that’s God.”

Jesus proceeded with part of the answer to the man’s question without further explanation, but we ask: Did this rich man know to whom he was speaking? Did he know that talking to Jesus is the same as talking to God?
Was he just being polite?

In either case, Jesus proceeds with his answer, which is basically abide by commandments 5-9. 

The man replied, “Been there, done that, got the tee shirt!”

Had we read this account in Matthew’s gospel, the rich man would have asked, “What else?  Anything else?  I want to be perfect.  Have I covered all of my bases?”

In Mark’s account, Jesus proceeds by saying, “There is one more thing.”

My guess is that the rich man thought that Jesus would hit him up for an offering or maybe ask him to host him and his disciples for a meal.  I am sure that in that instant between “one thing more” and what Jesus said, the man’s mind was moving through a dozen possibilities.

What Jesus said next was not one of them.

“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

There are 5 or 6 verbs and 1 promise in this statement.  Go, sell, give, come, and follow are the verbs common to most translations.  The King James and New King James add pick up your cross understood from earlier in the gospel. 

The promise was that, “You will have treasure in heaven.”

Somehow, I don’t think the treasure in heaven registered high on the rich man’s index of things that were important to him.  He had plenty now and this man Jesus—whom he had called good—had asked him to give up all that he had; and he had a lot.

The encounter ended with the man going away sad.  He went away sad.

Paul Harvey, where were you?  We want the rest of the story.  What happened with this man?

Do you remember the Parable of the Rich Fool?  The guy was going to build bigger barns, kick back and enjoy life, eat, drink, and be merry.  Jesus said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

The rich fool life model said, “My life does consist in the abundance of my possessions.”

In today’s parable, the man went away sad because he had great possessions.  He was a rich man and Jesus told him he needed to divest himself of his wealth.

I thought Jesus was a cool guy, but this is just mean.  It’s just mean to ask this man to give up all of his stuff and comfort.  C’mon, he told Jesus that he followed all the commandments he mentioned ever since he was a youth.
That should count for something.

I like Mark’s version of this account.  There is a sentence here that the other two synoptics don’t include.  Verse 21 states that Jesus looked at him and loved him, and then told him to go sell all his stuff.

He looked at him and loved him.

This rich man wanted someone to scratch his itching ears, but Jesus looked at him and loved him instead.

Last week, we covered the cost of being a disciple.  I hope that you left knowing that we cannot love anyone or anything more than Jesus.  I don’t think that we must literally hate our mother and father or brother and sister.  Had Jesus said our teenage kids, that might have been literal, but his message was that you may have no other gods before or beside the one true God that we know through his Son, Jesus.

We cannot be a disciple of Jesus and have other gods interfering with what is our primary relationship.

No other gods!

In his conversation with the rich man, Jesus had not mentioned the first three commandments (or the last), but surely this was where the man fell short.

He checked the box in most of the Thou shalt nots, but missed the boat on those which defined what his relationship should be with the one true God.
This man had other gods in this life and he loved them more than the one true God.  Jesus loved him by telling him to get rid of his false gods.

We don’t really know if he had a coveting problem or not.  He probably didn’t covet what anyone else had because he had three of them already.

The rich man went away sad.  Paul Harvey, where are you?

The dynamic of the story now turns to the disciples.  Imagine Jesus turning from the rich man who is walking away to his disciples and saying, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

This hit the disciples squarely in the face.  They didn’t see this coming.  So Jesus did what he did so often, he made an analogy.

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. 

Some commentaries mention a mountain pass name the Eye of the Needle because the passing there is difficult, but I think this time Jesus is literal.  It is easier for a camel—and if you have never seen a camel, they are huge creatures—to pass through the very small opening on a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.

I think that he purposely is describing something that is not difficult; it is impossible.  I think he wants to dispel any thoughts that the type A, high dominance personality types would say, “I can make that work.”

So now we come to it.  You can’t be rich and go to heaven.   You have to be poor.  That’s the ticket. 

Some are waiting for the ha ha line that follows, but there isn’t one.  A rich man is not getting into heaven, at least on his own.

The disciples are wondering where they fit into this rich and poor equation.  Jesus had called them and they left their homes and businesses.  Jesus did not go to Skid Row to recruit his disciples, so Jesus tells them that having or not having money isn’t really what it is all about.

Having money as your god is a big problem.

Wanting money and riches as your god is a big problem.

Loving your stuff more than your God makes your stuff into your god and that’s a problem.

It’s not really the money or the stuff that is the problem, it’s that all of your treasure is here on earth.

So, I should just stay poor?

Yes!  You should just stay poor!  Yes!

Unless, you want real riches.  Unless, you want treasure in heaven.  Unless you want to understand what true abundance is.

It’s not the money.  It is our relationship with our money.

It’s not the stuff.  It is our relationship with our stuff.

It’s not the comfort.  It’s our relationship with comfort.

If we are the master of our money and stuff and comfort zone and God alone is our Master: bring on the money.  We can handle it.

We will put it to work.  It will not change our relationship with God.

But, and this is a big but, we must affirm our love for God more when we have money.    Why?

Have you ever heard the saying Money talks?

The phrase is generally used to denote influence, but I have a different connotation.  Money actually talks.  It says:

Love me.  Love me.  Love me more than your God.

We are master of our money, but our money wants to be our mistress not our servant.

Money is not evil, but it finds the weakness in the human heart if that heart is not given fully to God.

Jesus laid it out for his disciples.  If you want to get to God on your own or you want this life to be the sum of your stuff, you will miss out on real living.

You can’t get there from here!

But with God—giving yourselves fully to seeking his kingdom and his righteousness—you can accomplish anything that you have been purposed to do.

With God all things are possible!

The disciples were wondering where they fit into the grand scheme of things.  Jesus told them and he tells us, whatever you have given up because you are his disciple, you will be given back many times over. 
We come to a familiar place.  It often comes up when we discuss tithes and offerings, but it is applicable to discipleship in all forms.

You can’t out give God!

He is God and he doesn’t play fair and you are just going to have to deal with it. If you get into a giving contest with God you are going to lose.  He is the Creator of gifts and blessings and abundance and you just can’t out give God.  It’s fun to try but he will give back so much more to you that you will never catch up in this giving game.

This is more than money and stuff and comfort zones and worldly relationships.  It is everything.  Everything that you give up for him will come back to you many times over.

So, should I sell all that I own and give the proceeds to the poor?

If the things that you own are your gods or are in the way of your relationship with God, yes.

If you are already the master of your money and things and Jesus is truly Lord in your life, this pericope is not a call to universal poverty.

How do I know for sure?  Try an inventory or inspection.

Of what?

Your schedule, your bank statement, your comfort zone, and your stuff and answer, “Who is master in this relationship?”  If you are master over those things and can live with or without them as you follow Jesus, then stay the course.

If you are not the master.  If some of these things have come between you and your God—the one true God—then it might be time to divest yourself of some false gods.

This scripture closes with what we might call the great reversal.  Many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first.

Are we the ultimate consumer in this life or are we the ultimate disciple?

Do we exalt ourselves or do we remain humble even if we have great wealth?

Is it all about me or all about God?

Imagine being in a lineup—not a football or baseball lineup—but the ones where the eyewitness tries to pick you out of 4 or 5 other people.  You might be a little nervous.  You are number 3 in this lineup.  The others sort of resemble you.  You have watched Law and Order and you sort of know how this goes.  There is someone on the other side of the glass in front of you.  You can’t see them, but they can see you.

The voice comes through the speaker: “Number 3 step forward.”

OMG!  You were just a little nervous before, but now...  OMG!

Everyone else in the room is asked to leave.  This can’t be good.  You start thinking, “Don’t I get a phone call or something?”

Then your mind goes crazy.  “I’m a regular person.  I don’t have a lawyer.  I feel like I am on that game show where you need to phone a friend, but I don’t even know what the question is.”

The room is empty except for you, that is, until three or four neatly dressed people come in.  They start reading to you:

·         You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions.
·         Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.
·         You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
·         If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.
·         If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
·         Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?

Hold on!  I don’t even know why I am here?  What am I charged with?

Someone calmly says, “Oh, I thought that you knew.  You are charged with following Jesus as his disciple and you are being held over for arraignment.”

Somebody turned you into the hotline because you do not worship the god of money or stuff or hate or ambivalence. 

I have used the query several times, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you.”

I’ll change the syntax just a little.  “If you were accused of putting God first in your life and following Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Today, I stand before you and have to say, “I see a lot of convicts and future convicts.”

Neither your money nor you stuff is your god.  I charge you today, to keep it that way.  Keep God first in all things.  Consider less what it costs to follow Jesus and more what a blessing it is.

If God calls you to give up something, give something to someone in need, or triples your paycheck; consider it all gain.  Do what he asks with joy in your heart.  He knows what you need to be complete.

You won’t go away sad.


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