Sunday, July 24, 2005

Rich in Goods, Empty in Spirit

Matthew 19:21-24 (New Living Translation)

21 “Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22But when the young man heard this, he went sadly away because he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. 24I say it again--it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

We have a print of an artist’s rendition of the encounter between Jesus and the rich young ruler in our dining room. I’m not sure who did the original, but I know that he captured the heart of what was going on quite well. What’s especially striking to me is the look of disdain on the young man’s face. He had a lot to lose and he wasn’t going to give it all up for a kingdom he couldn’t see.

I see a lot of that type of disdain on the blogosphere, particularly from young bloggers.

America is richer than she has ever been. The old in America are richer than ever. The young are too. And, the definition of poverty in this country is even being re-defined.

With all that they have to lose in giving their lives to someone who now seems like a wispy figure from the past, an interesting teacher whose teachings they can debate while they eat sumptuous meals in trendy restaurants, it’s just too much. Better, they believe, to grab all they can while they can. The lives of others mean little to them. Life is all about them, and nothing else. The wealth they claim they don’t have is choking the very life out of them.

It all manifests itself in a self-righteous attitude. They, like the rich young man have all the outward trappings of success. They obey the rules as best they can. They equate their wealth and position with God’s favor. I see it time and time again.

Oswald Chambers described this attitude and philosophy in his “Devotions for Morning and Evening.” They follow now:

Disposition and Deeds

Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:20)

“The characteristic of a disciple is not that he does good things, but that he is good in motive because he has been made good by the supernatural grace of God. The only thing that exceeds right-doing is right-being. Jesus Christ came to put into any man who would let Him a new heredity which would exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus says – If you are My disciple you must be right not only in your living but in your motives, in your dreams, in the recesses of your mind. You must be so pure in your motives that God Almighty can see nothing to censure. Who can stand in the Eternal Light of God and have nothing for God to censure? Only the Son of God, and Jesus Christ claims that by His Redemption He can put into any man His own disposition, and make him unsullied and as simple as a child. The purity which God demands is impossible unless I can be remade within, and that is what Jesus has undertaken to do by His Redemption.”

“No man can make himself pure by obeying laws. Jesus Christ does not give us rules and regulations; His teachings are truths that can only be interpreted by the disposition He puts in. The great marvel of Jesus Christ’s salvation is that He alters heredity. He does not alter human nature; He alters its mainspring.”

It’s the mainspring of his life that the rich young man did not want altered thousands of years ago. It’s that same mainspring that many in the throes of American wealth also refuse to concede. The rich young man held on to the things he could see and feel. In the end he lost his soul. I wonder nowadays as I read and listen to the rich young people of America how many of them are clinging desperately to those same things. And I wonder how many of them are losing their souls in the process.


Shawn said...

Good article. However, don't just stop at material goods. How about giving up violent retaliation for a turn of the other cheek? The will to retaliate - or answer violence with violence has to be given up just as much as material goods to "see" this invisable "Kingdom." A lot of Christians today seem to have missed the point of both of these messages.

Lady Penelope said...

I really enjoyed this post. Living as I do in NYC, the brash materialism is so in-my-face that sometimes it feels like I've eaten too much sugar. It even permeates spiritual life. I saw a woman on the train reading a book that, no kidding, said, "How to Use Your Spirituality to Get Everything You Want." But it goes beyond that; my family lives in the south and the midwest--at my sister's church the message seems to be, "Praise the Lord and you'll be blessed with a good retirement package." I'm NOT accusing Christians of being more materialistic than the rest of America, but a church is where one least expects to see this obsession with acquisition; makes me think the culture has been saturated by greed. I worry that we'll drown ourselves.

(I'm agnostic, for what it's worth. Not sure it matters. I work 60 hours a week to pay off student loans. If I won the lottery--which I don't play--I'd take a vacation.)