Wednesday, March 21st
Mark 10:17-31 (Comments on Lent for Everyone by N.T. Wright)
The story about Jesus’ encounter with the rich man often makes many of us squirm. In a number of Bible studies that I have led on this passage, the discussion will always seem to focus on how unfair and unrealistic Jesus’ demand was on the rich man by commanding him to “sell all your possessions and give it to the poor. You will have treasure in heaven. Then; come and follow me.” The conclusion that Christians often come to here is that Jesus’ command of the rich man is a blanket command to all of us before we can follow him. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, did not interpret the scripture in this way; otherwise he wouldn’t have come up with the motto for Methodists that they should “Earn all they can, save all they can, and give away all they can. We can sight scriptures in which Jesus does not require people to give away all they have before they can follow him.
So what makes this rich man different from the others whom Jesus encountered? He certainly seemed sincere enough when he asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He was faithful in following the commandments of Moses. Mark says that Jesus looked at this man with eyes of love as he told him what he still lacked. The man could not do what Jesus commanded and went away sad. How can Jesus say he loved him and yet allowed him to walk away? Could he not have said, come on board and we will work something out. What made this rich man’s situation different was not the fact that he was wealthy, but he was defined by his wealth. He wasn’t so much one who loved God and happened to be wealthy. He was described and defined as a rich man. Riches can be a blessing if we clearly see ourselves as stewards of God’s creation. But so often, we mistakenly come to consider riches as our possessions.
Wesley was very emphatic that Methodists give away all they can. Excess surplus can eat away at our spiritual love and devotion to God and our love and connection with our neighbor. The tithe of giving 10% of one’s income or produce became the Biblical measuring rod for faithfulness. But this doesn’t mean that the other 90% can be used at our discretion. God is the owner of everything and we are his stewards. The fact that Methodists give on average only 2.5% of their income to the ministry of the church today says something about our spiritual state these days. Of that 2.5%, only about 2% of it goes to reach the poor in other lands.
I believe that the question that faced the rich man is the same question that we face us as American Christians because many of us have quite a bit more than just the bare minimum to survive and live. Do you have riches, or do riches have you? The conclusion that you draw can have a profound impact on your future walk with Christ.