October 08, 2009

Encouraging Words 10/8/09-Material Things

From the Christian Century:

Mark 10:17-31 (NIV)
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: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do 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." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around 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 a rich man 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." Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!" "I tell you the truth," 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 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

This is why Jesus' words in Mark are like a "two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit." It's always tempting to look away when Jesus speaks to us of wealth, convincing ourselves that the rich young ruler is someone else who makes more money than we do. In subtle ways we say to Jesus, "Surely not I, Teacher."

Jesus' conversation with the rich young man presents two versions of the material life: the first is the young man's life of wealth and status. This is the kind of material life our culture trains us to long for, whether we are the immigrant hoping for a better life or the uber-wealthy person trying to "make do" with a 20,000-square-foot house.

Jesus called the young ruler to a new kind of material life, a life given to serving the poor with the "materials" of tears, blood and sweat. Clearly, this life is not marked by the kinds of happiness used to sell goods. But we do honor Jesus' call in our culture when we honor volunteers and all those who serve others.

Jesus was not calling the rich young man to an esoteric spiritualism, a gnostic abandonment of the physical world. Instead, he was calling him to move from one kind of materialism, the self-absorbed variety, to one that focuses on others' needs, including their material needs.

Click here to read the rest of the essay from The Christian Century.

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