The rich young man had asked the question. And Jesus had answered. “Sell it all. Give to the poor”. And as if that wasn’t enough to fill the ear, the chilling prognosis came later when his disciples questioned him further:
“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.”
These words of Jesus trip me up every time. Because I’m rich. And so are you. We are First world people.
I want to rationalize these words. Really, what camel ever wanted to go through the eye of a needle anyway? But maybe that‘s the point. Desire is the crack in the doorway to knowing God. Maybe the glitz and glitter of wealth can eclipse that desire.
So while these words of Jesus appear hard to us, they are actually about hope. Because as He spoke, Mark says Jesus loved this rich young man, knowing that this unburdening was vital to the righteousness he craved. So rather than shame, I see incredible love. Apparently selling possessions and giving to the poor is not only about the poor. And these words, though specific to the rich young man, actually hold promise for us as well.
Prosperity comes with not only enjoyment, but also upkeep and distraction from our underlying thirst. It deceives us, seeding independence and self sufficiency. No wonder the Third World is exploding in Gospel receptivity and growth, while we in the First World, like that famous frog, are dying in the slowly boiling water of prosperity.
I have been following 4 bloggers who traveled to Africa with World Help. In a strange way, I envy the exceeding joy of the African believers who have nothing in terms of worldly health and wealth. The treasure I hear them proclaim is Christ. As Scripture says, hearts and treasures are undeniably linked.
My pregnant daughter and family will soon be moving into a home with additional bedrooms to accommodate baby #3. Our grandson, upon his first visit to the home, raced the square footage at a full run and played hide and seek with his toddler sister, in a display of unreserved enthusiasm. There was so much more to explore. Like my grandson in the larger house, prosperity enlarges the spaces in which we can run and hide.
There is nothing glorious about poverty nor am I implying that we should strive for a state of martyrdom. But I believe that we, the church in North America, need to stop plugging our ears to the possibility that Jesus is speaking to us. And on a more personal level, to you and me.