The Rich Young Man
Sermon by Local Minister Sylvia Beardsmore
14th October 2018
Mark 10 :17-31 The Rich Young Ruler
To encourage congregation to look at wealth and how it is used.
Karl Marx had a point when he revolted against the bland assumption that the gross inequalities of life, especially the appalling working and living conditions thrown up by the industrial revolution were inevitable. And so it is hardly surprising that he also revolted against an image of God projected by the rich and successful when they went to worship.
And over the years I think it is true to say that for the individual Christian, and for the church as a whole our attitude to wealth is a dilemma and one I think that always makes me squirm. But I am in good company because the personal experience of Archbishop Justin Welby has led him to wrestle with questions of money, economic justice and the nature of Capitalism. And there are still those who would challenge his right as a religious leader to try and give a lead in this field. In his book Dethroning Mammon, published in 2016, he says this: “ the problem with materialism is not that it exists but that it dominates. It shouts so loudly that it overrides our caring about other things of greater value”.
And this is the tragedy of the Rich Young Ruler, whose story we read together earlier.
1. Good ... but not good enough
For me this is one of the saddest stories we have in the Gospels and the tragedy is the wasted potential of this man. The meeting between him and Jesus is vividly described by Mark. This was no casual meeting but the young man came running to Jesus and flung himself at his feet, in his search of eternal life. He knew exactly what he wanted and needed from Jesus. He was young, fit and full of energy and enthusiasm with all the potential of youth. No wonder Jesus saw him and loved him. He saw all that potential, but he saw more than that.
To the Jews wealth was a sign of goodness and so he challenges the young man about his keeping of the commandments. And sure enough he is able to confirm that he knows them and has kept them from his youth and so has achieved a level of goodness. But for Jesus it is not enough and so he confronts him with the ultimate challenge of the one thing he lacks - go and sell all you possess and give it to the poor. And this is the tragedy that the young man turns his back on Jesus and goes away sad. And I can imagine that as Jesus watched him go he is also sad. Here is someone with so much to offer who refuses to offer it to Christ. The question underlying this story is one that challenges us today as well. Yes, it is comparatively easy to live a good decent life - not harming anyone, and keeping the commandments most of which are negatives, but that is simply not enough.
The whole point of this story is not what you have not done, but what good have you done? To the rich young ruler this was especially poignant because of his wealth but it is equally relevant to us today. And it is a question that God asks us daily.
2. And this is the answer to our dilemma on wealth
It is not how much we have that counts but what we are prepared to do with it.
In Matthew’s gospel we have the parable of the sheep and goats at the final judgement. It was those who had fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and prisoner who were saved to eternal life. It was not something they had necesarilly gone out of their way to do, but a natural part of their daily living and in doing so they had done it unto Christ. Likewise, those who had neglected to do it had equally neglected Christ. It’s a tough call but that is the challenge of this story.
No wonder Jesus went on to tell the disciples that it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. Having to sew on Astrid’s cub badges becomes a greater and greater challenge as I struggle to see the eye of the needle, and then to hold my hand steady enough to thread it. But Jesus was probably referring to the very narrow gate in the wall round Jerusalem. In order for a camel to get through it had to be stripped of all its burden and saddle and go through totally unhindered - only to be re-loaded the other side. Yes the only way we can get into the kingdom of heaven is by decluttering ourselves of wealth and possessions, before reloading with the blessings of eternal life.
When William Booth saw the same conditions as Karl Marx he was equally moved and said with passion -
While women weep as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry as the do no, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is still one lost girl on the street I’ll fight; while there remains one dark soul without the light of God; I’ll fight; I’ll fight to the very end.
And so impatient with the church as he knew it, and with a very different vision of God, Booth went out and founded the Salvation Army.
If our relationship with wealth is not right, then neither our relationship to other human beings, nor our relationship with God will be right either.
How right Justin Welbey was when he said:- the problem with materialism is not that it exists, but that it dominates. It shouts so loudly that it overrides our caring about other things of greater value.
Leslie Francis said - Live dangerously for a few moments and imagine what it would be like to exchange your worldly possessions for treasure in heaven.
And one final challenge from Brother Roger of Taize - Share all you have for greater justice. And that is God’s challenge to us this morning are we going to accept it? Or like the young man in our story walk away from Christ sad and with heavy hearts because his demand is too great?
Lord, teach us to value whatever wealth is ours, be it little or much, as a trust that we may learn to handle it wisely, generously and lovingly. All that we have has come from you, show us how to use it to your glory.