You may remember the Adventures in Odyssey episode where Marvin and Tamika Washington hear a verse from this week’s Sunday school text read to them, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24, ESV). Through a series of events, they deduce that Mr. Whitaker is rich and set out to save his soul, asking questions along the way such as “Are there really small camels?” and “Can you have a really big needle?” Marvin and Tamika are calmed when Whit reads to them the rest of the passage, highlighting verse 26: “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” Yes, God can save rich people, too!
That verse is a lifesaver for us as well as Whit because, by all the standards both of Jesus’ day and of the modern world, we are rich as well! All of us have clean water, healthy food to eat, warm clothing to wear, adequate shelter, money in the bank, and time for leisurely activities, benefits that many people in the crowds that followed Jesus around did not enjoy. If your standard for measuring wealth is in modern global terms, you should know that if you earn more than $30,000 a year or have $70,000 in total assets, you are ranked in the top 1% most wealthy people in the world!
How should we respond to that knowledge and to the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19: 16-30? We’ll see on Sunday that the story is not just about wealth, but about the young man’s heart condition, which Jesus addresses by turning to the Ten Commandments. Which of the Commandments do you think the young man had broken? Generalizing the story, how can we know whether Jesus is calling us to radical action in some area of our lives? We’ll even talk about asceticism – self-denial – and explore the appropriate times and reasons for making radical changes (like selling off all of our possessions) or living a radical lifestyle (like the man who lived for 37 years on a pillar).
Of course, asking these general questions doesn’t let us off the hook when it comes to our wealth. How do we live as rich people seeking the kingdom of heaven, and how can wealth make it difficult to follow Jesus? Do we control our wealth, or does it control us, and how do we know? Finally, what reward do we receive for leaving it all behind? All this and more, Sunday at Shalom!