Mark 10:17-31; Hebrews 4: 12-16
This is a quotation from one of the craziest people I love, Ross Perot, billionaire and former presidential candidate. He spoke about wealth in an interview with Fortune Magazine:
“Guys, just remember, if you get lucky, if you make a lot of money,
if you go out and buy a lot of stuff–it’s gonna break. You got your biggest, fanciest mansion in the world. It has air conditioning. It’s got a pool. Just think of all the pumps that are going to go out. Or go to a yacht marina any place in the world. Nobody is smiling, and I’ll tell you why. Something broke that morning. The generator’s out; the microwave oven doesn’t work. . . .Things just don’t mean happiness.”
So today we have this very familiar story of the Rich Young Ruler who hears of Jesus’ fame. He comes to listen to him preach and teach. Thoroughly impressed, he asks Jesus what he should do to have that kind of eternal life that Jesus has just been talking about. Scripture says that Jesus’ heart immediately went out to this guy. He looked at him and saw leadership potential.
But the rich young ruler had a question. After listening to Jesus, he realized there was something he was missing in his life. Even though he was a good Jew who knew the commandments since his youth, something was missing. So he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The answer Jesus gave confounded him. It went against the prevailing cultural norms. One’s personal wealth was supposed to be directly proportional to what God thought of you. If you were good, followed the commandments, attended synagogue and prayed, then God would pour blessings upon your life. It demonstrated that God had smiled upon you.
But Jesus’ said, “You lack one thing; go, you own too much. Sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
He didn’t or wouldn’t. The rich young ruler was too tied to his wealth. Maybe wanted to avoid the effort it would take to get rid of it to do what Jesus recommended. It was just too high a price. Dejected, he leaves the scene.
Jesus’ disciples were surprised by this too. When Jesus said: “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They applied it to themselves. It confused them. Wealth had been God’s rating system. One knew where they stood by how much coin was in the pocket. It didn’t take long for them to ask, “What about us. We gave up everything to follow you. Was that enough?’
So, what did Jesus mean? And how does this apply to us. Have we given up enough? Have given up anything to follow Jesus?
A couple of years ago a friend gave me a new Bible. That’s not unusual. Preachers are supposed to have Bibles. Lots of them. I love them. But this Bible was a little different. The translator, an Aramaic scholar, Dr. George M. Lamsa, used Aramaic texts, the original language of Jesus. He claims that the language hasn’t changed much over the centuries and that many translators have mistranslated idioms from Aramaic. For example, the word “camel” in our passage today, looks almost identical to the word “rope”, in the Aramaic.
That makes a little more sense to me then trying to thread a needle with a camel. This Bible reads “My sons, how hard it is for those who trust in their wealth to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a rope to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (2)
It’s a more powerful image. It doesn’t leave us scratching our head thinking, “What’s Jesus mean by that?” It more accurately describes the struggles of the rich young ruler. He couldn’t see that the love in God’s kingdom was more powerful than all his wealth. He could see that it was blocking his way. Maybe this Aramaic image would have helped.
Isn’t it interesting that one of the things we have to teach children is the value of money. Until we teach them how important it is, they don’t really care. We see that when the really young children give an offering in church. They want a quarter to be like all the other people when the offering plate comes. Kids value family, friends and pets. They care about how well they can do things. Their values are built around relationships and not things. Not the stuff that money can buy.
Sure they’ll play with the things we buy them. But they don’t need everything we buy them. I’ll never forget the Christmas my Mom and Dad went all out on the tree and the house. and the train under the tree. They must have stayed up all night trimming the tree and setting the train set up under it. Our household operated under the premise that it was that Santa Clause who did all that.
The next morning it was pure, kid–Christmas heaven. There must have been twenty presents for me under the tree. I opened all of my presents. I tore through them all and was excited about every one of them and the train. After some cookies and milk for breakfast and all the gifts were open, to my parents’ disbelief, I was playing with the boxes. I had carefully lined up the toys and sat there building stuff out of the cardboard boxes.
I’m not saying don’t give kids presents, or don’t let them have stuff. What I am suggesting is that sometimes, kids can show us life from its purest perspective. I believe that’s why this passage about the rich young ruler comes directly after Jesus’ teaching about receiving the Kingdom like little children.
While we care for them, and while we provide for them, we need to remember that our children are in ministry WITH us. Our children serve God, just like we do. They can do things that please God. They can be an inspiration. They can help us worship (children’s message in worship for example) and in the community when we show them how to do that.
While it’s not too early to begin addressing it, budget time is just around the corner. A good steward of the gifts that God has given, means building wealth, the wealth that really matters. The wealth of God’s kingdom. The wealth that makes us “richer than a millionaire.”
Where is our wealth? Are we having a hard time threading the needles of our lives? Are we trying to shove that camel or a rope through that needle of ours? Jesus wasn’t saying to get rid of everything we own.
Jesus was saying to get rid of what ever it is that keeps us separated from Him. For the rich young ruler it was his wealth. What is it for you?
Is it an overbooked schedule, so that there is no time to relax?
Is it power and influence that pumps up false pride?
Is it feeding off others so you can live a selfish life?
“Things don’t mean happiness.”
We build the wealth of the heart by sharing, by loving, by giving it away. Then and only then we will know the joy of following our Master.
May God bless us all. Amen