There are so many different types of shows on television, including game shows, one of which was “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Most of us would answer yes to that question. A famous comedienne once said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better.” I wonder what Jesus would have to say about that.
The answer is found in Mark 10:17-31. The young man was perhaps in his mid-thirties. Luke describes him as a ruler, a person of prominence. In the ancient Middle East, it was considered undignified for a man to run; however, this one threw his respectability to the wind, rushed to Jesus, and fell on his knees before Him. The man recognized that he was missing something important-eternal life-but he did not understand that salvation is about what God does for sinners rather than what we do for God.
Despite his wealth and position, the young man showed youthful enthusiasm. He had a vision of the future. The fact that he turned to Jesus showed that he learned that you get what you want by running toward your goal at the head of the pack. When he stopped running and winning, he reflected on his future. He asked himself what more he could achieve. He longed for spiritual satisfaction and the assurance of eternal life.
When he addressed Jesus, the young man asked what he could do to inherit eternal life. He had several false assumptions. He assumed that goodness could be achieved. He assumed that eternal life can be earned. He thought that everything can be bought for a price, including eternal life. Eternal life can’t be bought but it costs everything we have.
Jesus did not rebuke the man for calling Him “good,” but He wanted the young ruler to move beyond flattery and recognize that if Jesus is really good, then He is also God. The only way to God is through Jesus.
God’s commands are a tutor to bring people to Him, so Jesus cited five of the last six Commandments to help the man see how short of God’s perfection his actions had fallen. The young ruler had already broken the first commandment by elevating riches into a Godlike place in his life.
Although no one can flawlessly keep all the commandments for even one day, let alone a lifetime, Jesus did not correct the ruler’s claim. Still, Jesus wanted him to see that his “goodness” could not be compared to God’s perfection. He pointed out the one glaring fault that kept the man from accepting God’s offer of eternal life.
Because Jesus loved this man, he called him to the truth of uncompromising discipleship. Only in leaving behind all that mattered to him-both the wealth and the social position that came with it-would he gain eternal life. The term translated “sad” means more literally, “to cloud up.” While the young man felt emotionally torn, his decision proved the object of his devotion.
Jesus reduced the expectations attached to wealth. Jewish law and its interpretations made wealth a sign of God’s special favour and a qualification for eternal life. According to the Jews, true piety consisted of prayer, fasting and alms giving. Poor people could pray, but only the rich had food to fast and money to give. Jesus taught that this belief was wrong. No one can enter heaven by their own merit or need, but everyone can be saved by God’s grace.
The young ruler is like most of us. We compare ourselves to other people. Jesus says that if we want to compare ourselves to someone, we should compare ourselves to God. He is the ultimate standard of what is good.
We are sometimes like the young man who was struggling to make ends meet. He thought that getting a better-paying job would make his problems go away. He wrote to Billy Graham and asked if financial stability would bring peace. In his reply Billy Graham wrote the following words:
“The story is told of two old friends in the process of dying at the same time. One was rich, the other was poor. The rich man was not saved, and he was telling someone about his friend, who was a Christian. “When I die,” he said, “I shall have to leave my riches. When he dies, he will go to his riches.” In a word, he summed up the two radically different principles which govern the world. He could not part with his riches in peace.”
Too often when we do something, we ask ourselves, “What’s in it for me?” This is also a major theme in some so-called Christian ministries. They tell us that if we have more faith in Christ, we will be wealthy. They tell us that if we give more money to them, God will heal them more. We will be wealthy-we will gain heavenly riches.
The young man’s problem was not riches themselves but that he trusted in such things, believing that life with God could somehow be bought. If only he had looked beyond his great possessions, he would have seen the real possession of those who believe-eternal life.
Jesus isn’t saying that material wealth is bad. He says that it can blind us to the true riches of life. When are we the happiest? When do we feel loved for who we are? When is there peace in our families, in our neighbourhoods and in the world?
Jesus didn’t make poverty or giving all our money to the poor requirements for salvation. He exposed the young man’s heart. The young man couldn’t submit to the Lordship of Christ no matter what was asked of him. This kept the young man from the eternal life he sought. When we realize that the things we often rely on don’t actually give us anything, we find ourselves in a place where we rely on Jesus. We realize that everything good we have and all we have accomplished is a gift from God. We are ready to share it with others. When we do, we begin to follow and act like Jesus.
No one can enter heaven by virtue of his or her good works. That is as absurd as a camel, loaded down with goods, passing through the eye of a needle. Yet through His love and grace, God accomplished what sinners could not do on their own. Salvation is all grace, all God.
Peter commended himself and his fellow apostles for doing what the rich young man failed to do. They left all and followed Jesus. Jesus answered that God would reward them beyond all proportion to their supposed sacrifice. No one who gives up anything to follow Jesus really misses out on anything in the end. Anyone who has made sacrifices gains eternal life and will receive spiritual rewards.
The struggle that the wealthy have is that the values and principles of God’s Reign are so completely different from those of the world. Human systems of power and wealth always favour some and ignore others. They always end up perpetuating injustice, because human beings are broken and sinful. God’s Reign is about equality and generosity. It is about sharing power, resources and opportunities. The more wealth we have, the more we are invested in the human systems of this world and the harder it is to live according to the values of God’s Reign.
We can’t buy our way into heaven. We can’t get to heaven by doing good works. We can’t get into heaven by praying. Our salvation is a gift from God. If we accept this gift, we will be spiritually wealthy. Eternal life is in Christ alone. People who have it have died to sin and are alive to God. They have the life of Christ in them. They enjoy a relationship in Jesus that will never end.
The wealthy can’t escape sickness, aging and death. Wealth won’t help us to face what is beyond our control. Only spiritual wealth can inspire a life of healing, justice-seeking and care for the earth. Only spiritual wealth will enable us to trust our futures to a power and wisdom greater than our own.
How do we as people who live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and during the wealthiest chapters of history hear this text? We live in comfortable homes. We are more likely to overeat than to go hungry. Our children go to good schools. We dress well. We drive nice cars. We have retirement savings. By any standard, we are among the wealthiest people in history.
Is Jesus speaking to us in this text? Are we to sell what we own and give it to the poor? Is it harder to us to get into heaven than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a sewing needle? If Jesus were to put his finger on what is keeping us from wholehearted devotion to him. what would the issue be? Would we love him with our whole hearts, minds and souls, or would we go away sad?
Jesus is speaking to us, and it is extremely difficult if not impossible for us to manage our wealth in a way that enables us to spend eternity with God. As soon as we cry out with the disciples, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus answers us as he answers them, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for with God all things are possible.”
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- “Rewards by Grace.” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Michael Milton, “What’s In It For Me?” Retrieved from www.preaching.com
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 28th Sunday (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Pastor David J. Risendal, “Through the Eye of a Needle.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- David Ray, “Painful Remedies.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Vikki Burke, “The Means to a Greater End.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-Pentecost21-October 14, 2018.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/blogs/livingholyadventure/2018/09/the-adventurour-lectionary.org
- Rev. Billy Graham, “Can Financial Stability Buy Peace?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com/healthandspirit/religion/billygraham/s-2126209?print&ezine=202