Today's Reading – Mark 10:13-31 – How hard it is for the rich ...
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There are some things Jesus says that make us uneasy. We read them quickly and pass on; or maybe we add our own gloss to them to ensure that the shock of what he says is mitigated.
We have one such saying before us this morning. When a rich young man comes to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to, "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven" (Mark 10:21). When the young man has turned sadly away, Jesus tells the crowd, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" (10:23).
These are uncomfortable words, for we know that we in the West are among the rich of this world. More than that, in many ways we have become rich at the expense of others. We are made uneasy by Jesus' words. Is he talking about us? Does he want us to sell all we have and give it to the poor?
Jesus' words make us uncomfortable. So we hedge them around with protective interpretations. It is not possessions themselves that are the problem but rather the love of them. We do not have to get rid of what we have; we need only to ensure that our possessions do not possess us – that they do not steal our heart. We do not need to give away all we have; only to be open-handed and generous. After all, our possessions are God's gift to us; a gift we are to use wisely as his stewards rather than fling away. Were we to give them all away we would then need someone else to help us out. If everyone were to give away all that they had there would be no-one left to help the poor.
There is, of course, much sense in all of this. But is it what Jesus is saying? And if this is what Jesus really meant, why did he not make that clear to this young man?
We do need to recognise that Jesus dealt with each person he met individually. He did not have a stock answer which was the same for everyone he spoke to but addressed each one according to their needs. Jesus did not tell Zacchaeus to get rid of all he possessed. We should not treat each word that Jesus speaks to an individual as if it were a universal command. Jesus had seen that this man’s riches were his idol; it was his riches that kept him back from following Jesus. Jesus spoke into the particular circumstances of this man’s life and told him what he must do if he would follow Jesus and share in his kingdom.
Having said all that, we need to be careful that we do not too easily dilute the force of Jesus' words. This incident is recorded for us to read because it is instructive for us. Jesus addresses us through this passage, just as he used the occasion to teach his disciples in Galilee. What is he saying to us? What is he saying to me? Are there ways in which I also have made money an idol and have been deceived into believing that my security is bound up with the quantity of my possessions? It is good to be made uncomfortable by Jesus’ words, not that we might sorrowfully turn back from following him but that we might follow him joyfully and with single-hearted devotion.
Lord, give me ears to hear what you are saying and a heart to respond to your call. Help me to have a right attitude to all that you have given me: to recognise that all I have belongs to you and is to be used to your glory. Give me a generous heart and a wise spirit in my stewardship of all that you have placed in my hands. May they prove a blessing to me and to many others rather than being a cause of stumbling.