This morning in my One-Year Bible readings I came to this well-known story:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.”’
‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’
Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘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.’
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’
Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.’ (Mark 10:17-27 NIV).
Here’s my prayer response.
Lord Jesus, one verse in this reading really jumps out at me: ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him’ (v.21). This is the context for everything else. Your love for this man made you tell him the truth. If you had loved him less, you could have come up with some compromise plan, but you knew a compromise wouldn’t really cut it. Because you loved him so much, you had to be straight with him.
What is the truth? The deepest truth is that we are all called to follow you, and we all have things that hinder us from following that call. And one of the most potent is our wealth.
You aren’t moralizing, Lord Jesus; you are speaking plain fact. A person who has spent their life relying on money as the answer for everything will find it hard to trust in God. Their trust muscles haven’t had much exercise. I know this to be true in my own life. I live quite comfortably. I never have to worry about where the next meal is coming from. When something goes wrong, I can usually afford to buy my way out of it. I use money to buy enjoyment (music, books, food, experiences). I rarely have to be ‘beholden’ to others. And because I’m not forced to exercise desperate faith on a regular basis, it’s hard for me to live as a Kingdom person.
Also, money and possessions have wrapped a chain around my heart. I have, but I still want more (even though I have not found ultimate happiness in the stuff I already have). Enough is never enough. Acquisition is addictive. Giving becomes harder, because I still want more stuff. ‘Stuff’ is one of my favourite idols.
So, Lord Jesus, you speak a word of living truth to this man. You challenge him to dethrone the false god and follow you. Only when he has dethroned the false god will he be free to follow you. He can’t settle for less. The challenge is hard for him to face, but it’s the only way. He’s like an alcoholic who can’t just drink moderately; he has to be teetotal, or he’ll die of his addiction.
Dare I ask if this is me? I don’t dare. But I must ask myself: am i an addict, Lord Jesus?
Of course, I have obligations – family, friends, job – that require me to possess a certain amount of ‘stuff’. But do I keep on and on acquiring, above and beyond what I need? Undoubtedly I do.
Lord Jesus, help me to learn to find joy and freedom in living as simply as I can, so that nothing gets in the way of following you. You have said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31 NIV). So help me today to walk in the true freedom of simplicity and faith. Amen.