28 May 2015 - clay
The redemption of the rich young ruler
Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him,“One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.– Mark 10:21-22
Normally when we read or are taught the story of the rich young ruler, we look at it as a sad story about how the rich man can’t get to Heaven because he loves his money too much. Reading through it again last night taught me that this isn’t a sad story at all, but one that we should all find joy and hope in.
When the young man asks Jesus how to get into heaven, Christ replies with a list of the commandments. The rich young ruler replies that he has kept all of those since he was a young boy. Sure, we’re probably thinking that there was no way that he could have, but look at the commandments that Jesus listed: adultery, murder, stealing, lying, cheating, and honoring your parents. These aren’t exactly the most difficult to keep, right? Lying may be the most difficult of those, but let’s just imagine that RYR [footnote]I’m tired of typing out rich young ruler.[/footnote] was an especially virtuous young man. I’m sure you know someone like him.
Then Jesus drops the big bomb on him and says that he has to sell all that he has and give that to the poor. This cuts RYR a bit, and he leaves sad. Before we become too full of self-righteous tut-tutting of RYR let’s think about how we would feel if Jesus said to us that we had to give up our iPhones and our big screen televisions in order to follow him.[footnote]And I’m not sure that doing so wouldn’t be such a bad idea.[/footnote] You’d be sad too, right? Heck I’d be a nervous wreck.
That’s usually where the story stops. We move on to explaining about how we shouldn’t love our things more than we love God. While this is true, and is a central tenet of the parable, there is something else there that tends to be co-opted for when people want to imagine God empowers then to do anything.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples,“How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them,“Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”26 And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?”27 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”– Mark 10 22 – 27
The last verse in this passage is usually taken to mean that God empowers us to do just about anything, but I submit that it is something different. Jesus is saying that God can do the impossible, like making a camel go through the eye of a needle. There is nothing else in this context which describes God empowering anyone. This is still about the RYR and about the ability of God to save men who are even still holding on to earthly things.
I wonder how the RYR turned out in the end? I like to believe that because Jesus used him in this parable and then followed it up with “all things are possible with God” that eventually the RYR was redeemed. I’m picturing he and Thomas together in heaven talking about how people give them a bum rap.
Two things I want to take away from this. First, this is not an excuse to hold on to your treasures and possessions here on earth. Be generous and give of your time, talents, and treasure while you’re here. It pleases God, makes you happier[footnote]Yes, you’re happier with less stuff. Seems antithetical to the Western marketing mindset, but it’s true.[/footnote], and strengthens your witness. Plus, it shows love to those around you.
Second, we are all like the RYR. We all have something that we are holding on to that is coming between us and God. It could be money, sex, work, children, spouses, possessions, power, or any number of other things. We can’t earn our way to salvation through any of these things. Each of these is a stumbling block to us, keeping us from knowing God more. The amazing thing is that God is bigger than that. Our salvation is impossible with us, but not with God. The RYR could be made righteous. Even more incredibly, we can be made righteous. The impossible is made possible by God.
So let’s not use this verse as one of empowerment to accomplish small deeds here on earth. Let’s use it as a reminder that we can’t earn our way to heaven. God has sent that camel through the needle’s eye and performed the impossible task of saving us from our own sin.