Riches and Relationships (Third Sunday in Lent)

Rich people? How should we understand them?

As we continue our Lenten walk to Jerusalem with Jesus, we meet people from ancient Palestine who seem familiar to us.

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?”

We feel like we have met him before. Maybe some of you who read this are him.

“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, honor 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.” (Mark 10:17-22)

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

The last line of this is particularly striking. He went away sad? I thought money made us happy!

When it comes to religious behavior, this guy is without blame. He has not murdered, committed adultery, stolen, lied in court, or dishonored his parents (behaviors based on the 10 Commandments). He is also not guilty of fraud, meaning his business dealings have been honest.

Yet Jesus tells him he is still lacking something. Jesus prescribes a needed behavior, something in keeping with the Law of Moses, but going far beyond it. The rich man should shed his wealth and direct the proceeds to poor people. Then, Jesus says, he will find true wealth, riches in heaven. Then, he will be a suitable follower of Jesus.

This seems harsh, very harsh. But Jesus does not care about this man’s money and the good it could bring to poor people as much as he cares about the man himself. He loves him. What is amiss is that Jesus suspects the man loves his wealth more than God. His heart religion is not worship of the Lord but adoration of wealth. And, the reaction of the man (who had probably never faced this choice before) confirms Jesus’ suspicion. Choose this day whom you will serve? I’m a slave to my money.

The wrong application of this lesson is that we all need to liquidate our material possessions and write a final big check to a charity for the homeless before we join their ranks. Maybe this is what you need to do, personally, but that is not Jesus’ intent. The right application, a great Lenten lesson, is that we cannot love anything more than God and expect to have treasure in heaven. This is not referring to our final reward after death, but to our crucial relationship with the Lord God here and now.

One of the entailments of “giving up something for Lent” is the idea of donating the cost savings to a charity. I have my “giving up” idea in place. I can’t say it has been without challenge, but I am calculating the personal savings and intend to send a donation to the Open Door Mission. I don’t think this will cause me to walk away sad, but rather give me the joy of choosing service to God over self-pleasure. I encourage you to do the same.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

The contents of this blog are the opinions of the blogger, not necessarily his employer.