It was years ago now when I began to wrestle as a Christian with what God would have me do with my “stuff”. In other words, though I was not wealthy per se, every now and again I could do pretty well for my family. And as I began to evaluate that through the lens of my professed Christianity, I began to see a little glimpse into what Jesus was in such a fuss about when he talked about money—something that he talked an awful lot about. He did so specifically as it related to how those identifying with this new upside-down kingdom were to hold on to it, or not. And Jesus seemed to always have different strokes for different folks in this regard.
Now though I had always been a giver of myself and my “stuff”, since I had never had any real wealth to speak of, I began to realize one can only understand the principle of extravagant giving when he or she is suddenly faced with the reality of their growing discretionary income. Because until then, it is sheer “speculation”, or mere pompous sermonizing to others about something you yourself have never had to wrestle with. And so I found out that until you have a big check that you can actually write and that won’t bounce, the talk is cheap. Also, most interestingly, as I reflected on these weighty matters, I saw something I had not seen before. It seemed that both the rich, and the poor were guilty in a similar vein. For the rich looked down on the poor for what they did not have, but the poor envied and even hated the rich for that very same reason.
And I guess you could say because of that experience, I began to see that contrary to the social justice warrior community and many on the progressive left, Jesus was not condemning a man’s wealth at all. In fact, a lot of people who give the scriptures a mere cursory glance rather than sticking around for a while miss this by at least a mile or so. Because contrarily, rather than condemning a man or woman’s ability to make wealth, Jesus’ cautions were to simply remind them who gave them the power to make it in the first place, and thus equally challenging them as to whether or not they should hold on to it loosely instead of guarding it with a miserly clinched fist. And as I see it, for Jesus, it really came down to our clear decisiveness as to which kingdom we were to now focus on, and whether or not we trusted that God actually had our continual back once we sowed into it. And like the two men we are going to briefly look at today, one of them teeter tottered on the precipice of radical Christianity on the narrow path, yet then succumbed to the default comfort of the mere “letter of the law”. The other presented with the same invitation, knew that the Spirit would require a change of the heart in proportion to the talents (or wealth) one had actually been given. Consequently, one left saddened because he finally understood the requirement, while the other had something Jesus called “salvation” finally enter into his very home.
Rich Dude #1
The first rich dude (we’ll call him “The Rich Young Ruler”) encountered Jesus, and it seemed Jesus was pretty smitten with him at first. In fact, the scriptures lead us to believe that Jesus is perhaps offering to him a chance to throw in his lot with the rest of the motley crew. And so the crowd awaits with anticipation as the young man asks Jesus what seems to be a really great question given the circumstances. He asks, “What good thing must I do to gain eternal life? Jesus’ reply seems to be accommodating at first glance. He throws out what seems to be a spiritual soft ball of sorts by having some table-talk with the young fellow about the goodness of God as opposed to man. A little Sunday-school primer shall we say. And yet as I read it, I can’t help but wonder if the subtle innuendo before us is that the man’s first question is in itself incriminating his chances of becoming disciple #13, as he inadvertently shows us his unlucky hand. He does so by holding on to a list of do’s and don’ts that he has always evaluated himself by, and marvelously always came out smelling like a rose! And yet also rather cryptically it seems, alerting us to the fact that “eternal life” is yet one thing left on his rich bucket list that he has not yet attained. Perhaps he seems to think Jesus is also on to something more, which is why he is inquisitive, and so we don’t want to take that from him. However, lurking somewhere in the distance is a man, who also like many of us, equates salvation as mere icing on the cake or simply “fire insurance” added to an already privileged and also sheltered life.
And yet before Jesus gets the conversation down to brass tacks, He lobs out one more soft ball question about an answer he knows all of us law-abiding religionists will get right without batting an eye. And as you guessed it, the young ruler does not disappoint. For like us, he has a lot of head knowledge that has yet to seep down into his stony heart. And it is here that Jesus has now called the spade out for what it is! For In knowing that the man actually thinks he is already good, and that salvation is something to be gained by his own effort and money clip, he puts the very prerequisite before him that is the one thing that always separates the men from the boys on the narrow path: zeroing in on whatever the one thing is in our lives that we love more than the God we profess we want to follow. And for rich dude #1, that love is money honey; and all at once, there is nothing left in sight but the road still untraveled.
Rich Dude #2
Rich dude #2 actually has a name, and we know him as Zacchaeus. He was a short dude, and so I guess he had to have money if he wanted to pick up chicks. I don’t know. Or maybe it was because he was a chief tax collector, which was tantamount to being a lawyer, or perhaps today’s Title-loan shark. Yea, that’s it. But anyway, Zacchaeus was also intrigued by Jesus and wanted to know more, and so being short and all, he climbed one of them there sycamore trees and such, so he would be sure to not miss Jesus when he passed by. And maybe he didn’t actually think he would get to see Jesus so he was keeping a safe distance, but Jesus spotted him and told him that he “needed” to come to his house. This little tidbit we are told elated Zacchaeus, yet likewise also further disrupted the religiosity of pretty much everyone else in sight. Yet for Zacchaeus, it didn’t matter, because wealth was all had. He made no such boasts such as the young ruler about keeping the law perfectly all his life. Rather, he was more than likely rich and also lonely, because he made a living exploiting the rich and the poor, and everyone else in between. We’re not given much commentary after this, but one thing we know, is that like the grinch, he got a super-size heart that day that came with a recipe for his immediate change. His vow therefore became the following: “Look, Lord, half of my possessions I now give to the poor, if I have cheated anyone of anything, I am paying back four times as much”. Then Jesus said these very telling words that will help us wrap up our thoughts today. He said, “Today salvation has come to this household”.
Me and You
So in the end, we have two sets of rich dudes. Both are spiritual seekers, but only one recognized that in order for salvation to have its full effect, there would be costs associated. Costs in proportion to his own talent and wealth for the good of a different kingdom with a different kind of King. A salvation that requires a change in our behavior, and equally one that also involves a drastic reevaluation of the abundance of our own stuff, as well as equal ponderance and restlessness about what to do about those without the very basic stuff. And though there is no “one size fits all” strategy for who is to give and do what, one thing is abundantly clear: In order for salvation to truly come, we need to make sure we are the right kind of rich dude!
Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous givers, sharing with others. In this way they will save up a treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the future and so lay hold of what is truly life. (I Timothy 6:17-19 NET)