Monday, March 24, 2014

Rich Young Man

A man came to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answered the man, "Take all you have, sell it, and give the money to the poor. Then come, follow me." And the man walked away sad, because he had an abundance of worldly goods that he was not willing to part with.

We assume the problem with the rich young man was greed - the things he had held more value for him than the thing that he himself proclaimed to want. And while Jesus makes this story about wealth, about a man who must choose between God and money, the heart of this story is not about a man who has more than he needs; it is about a man who does not trust in God enough.

You see, I don't think this is a story about a man for whom eternal life is not a good enough promise. I think, having sought the Lord, he believed there was an answer to eternal life and that this Rabbi had it. I think he was ready to believe whatever Jesus would say was that answer. 

But I think the man, by the end of the Lord's reply, has forgotten his question. Without that question, he's forgotten the key dynamic taking place on this busy street - the relationship between himself and God. The Lord tells him that he must get rid of his so many things and choose the one thing, and the man is left thinking, "What's in it for me?" The poor become rich. The money is spread around. The things go to new homes, to bless new owners. The man is thinking, "What do I have left?"

Exactly what he asked for - eternal life. In the cringing moment of entertaining the idea that he might lose all his stuff, however, he's forgotten what he gets in the exchange; he's focused only on what he's losing.

I say that, and I make this assumption about this man, because I know that's true in my own life. I know that's true for many of the men and women I talk with. There are these beautiful moments of faith in which we all run to God, begging for the answer to our most burning questions, ready to buy in to whatever He says the answer is. Ready to believe. And then the answer seems like it's hard on us and easy on the world, a sacrifice for us and a soiree for the world. We see all the things that are going to happen to everybody else if we do what God has asked, and whatever may be in it for us is shrouded, at best; hidden, at worst. And we forget our own question.

Sure, Lord, we say. I have more than I need. I could get rid of my things, and they would do great benefit among those in need. The poor would be well taken care of with the money. The items would be well-loved in new homes. I could make my wealth a common possession, and make comfort more accessible to the people around me. But what's in it for me? It doesn't feel like eternal life.

And the truth is that God could have added eternal life on top of the man's wealth. He's done it before. He continues to do it. There are the Heaven-destined wealthy among us right now. Wealth is no prohibition to eternity. But selfishness is. And I don't even think it was the man's seeming greed that most demonstrated his selfishness. Rather, it was that he was only thinking about himself.

He was trying to figure out how he worked into the equation. He was trying to do the math in his head - how much he would lose, how much it would be worth, what would be the cost. How Jesus was going to transform his wealth into life, through the middle man of the poor person. He never once considered, that we have evidence of, that God was doing something bigger than the man in that moment. That He was poised to do something bigger, anyway.

Because imagine this: imagine you're among the poor, and one of the rich men of the village begins to sell off his property. He auctions off this or that item, and not only is he making some great deals on the goods, but the money itself is going right back into your pocket. He's donating everything to charity! He is somehow, in his odd move of generosity, making available both things and money, the two very things your life is lacking. And they're coming into your hands. Life is about to get better.

But consider also this: what makes a rich man do such a thing? That's the bigger story. You see, God was inviting the rich young man to impact the region in more than mere wealth. He starts getting rid of all he has and, yes, the wealth spreads around. But so, too, does the message of Christ. People are going to want to know what this rich man is after that all of his riches are disposable. What greater thing there is that entices this rich man to give it all up for one thing. People start asking what's at the root of all this, they go searching, and they find Jesus. It could have been a really big thing.

So he sacrificed his eternal life...and his chance to play a huge role in God's story...and potentially the exposure of the Gospel (more easily) to a great many people...and perhaps those people's chances of understanding how big God really is...because he foolishly thought the answer to his question would be solely about him. 

That's the problem with so many of us. I know it can be sometimes for me. I come to God, full of hope, standing on faith, ready to believe and I'm so honed in on what the answer is going to look like for me. It's easy to forget that God wants to do something bigger than you...and often, He does this bigger thing through you.

Had the rich young man believed that what God was giving was eternal life, had he trusted what he'd believed five minutes before, had he leaned into the idea that even when it looked like God was using him for the good of everyone else, had he trusted that in that scheme, God was also working for him, he could have had eternal life...and a huge part in a big story.

But he didn't believe. He didn't trust. He didn't lean into what he had told himself walking up that road would have to be truth. Rather, he forgot the question. He focused on himself. He zeroed in on how this looked for him. In his narrow-minded, self-absorbed, tunnel-vision faith, he forgot the very crucial truth of how it looked for God.

And they both missed the bigger thing.

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