Jesus and money -- what every American Christian doesn't want to know
It's great to be rich... or is it?
If you are an American, you are almost certainly rich on a global scale. If you are an American Christian (i.e., a rich Christian), are you okay with Jesus rattling your cage about money? If so, read on. I'm not the one to say I have mastered Jesus' approach to money. I am being challenged by Jesus too.
Today's Gospel reading in the Book of Common Prayer is Mark 10:17-31, the story of the rich young man. I have pasted it below. As I read the passage this morning, I was struck by how the rich young man is a reflection of Americanized Christians.
Note, not all American Christians remain Americanized, but too many do. An Americanized Christian is one who mixes Jesus in with the American Dream. In other words, we Americanize Jesus and then tell him how much we love him, because he is exactly who we want him to be. He tells us what we want to hear.
Many people in the American church are growing restless with Americanized Christianity. We enjoy our lifestyle, do a lot of good things, and we are religious, but deep down inside we know there is more to being a Christian than that. Like Francis Chan says at the beginning of Crazy Love, "We all know something's wrong." That's basically what the rich young man in Jesus' story was saying. "I am doing good things, but I feel like something is missing. This ache in my heart tells me something's wrong." I see him asking a question a lot of us ask. "Jesus, how can I go deeper with you? What is beyond just being good?"
Jesus' response speaks volumes about what is important in life. "Sell all you have, give the proceeds to the poor, and come and follow me." Listen for Jesus' value system. He would rather the young man have no possessions and follow the Great Shepherd than have everything and settle for a safe life where his luxuries keep him comfortably insulated from really following God. Stop and think about that for a minute. The ramifications are startling. And it's not just about money. It's about anything that keeps us from following him responsively.
The young man did not follow responsively. He turned and walked away. What would he have become if he had done what Jesus said to do? What impact would he have had in this world? We will never know.
By the way, don't you find this part of the story terrifying? Jesus lets the man walk away. I think a lot of times we want God to keep us from making decisions like this. But he doesn't.
I believe every American Christian becomes the rich young man in this story if not once then many times throughout our lives. We come to the point of decision faced only by the rich. What will I choose? My lifestyle is calling me back. Jesus is calling me forward. In the moment of decision, what will I do? It's nice to be rich, but our money threatens to hold us back from really following Jesus. That's just the way things are. They have always been like that. It's not a knock on America at all. It's just a general human principle at work.
Because we are rich, we in the American church need to listen closely and courageously. Not once but twice Jesus stresses that it is difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Success is not making good money and doing some good deeds. Success is following the Great Shepherd. Why get stuck in good when Great is calling us?
If you are reading this, and you feel you are at the point of decision, take a few moments to talk about it with Jesus in prayer. He knows how hard it is for us to make these kinds of decisions. But "what is impossible for people is possible for God." Do what he is saying to do, and trust him for the strength. It will be there when you need it.
Here is Mark 10:17-31...
17 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?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 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.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 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.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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.” 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” 28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” 29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”