Tumbling in the Sand
“Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them 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 someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.'” – Mark 10:23-27
This is a very uncomfortable passage. Probably because I’ve heard enough sermons on this passage that I can’t even pretend to be poor and not have these words apply to me. And, in case I had any such inkling, I went to visit a site today that told me what my global wealth ranking is. Let’s just say, if you’re feeling poor, you should check out this site: http://globalrichlist.com/ Yeah, the fact you are reading this on your own computer is probably a sign you are doing pretty well by global standards—even having computer access is a privilege. We have a lot in common with that rich man. I have a lot in common with that rich man.
The irony is, we live in a culture here in the States (and really, the whole world), that makes us feel poor. Even when we have lots of stuff or even better—uncountable, un-buy-able blessings, we feel poor because the next latest, greatest thing is being advertised on TV (or the internet, or the radio or by mail) and we are told that we should go get it. Not just because it’s a car/shampoo/truck/beer/clothing-brand/you-name-it but because it will make us happy/sexy/satisfied/spiritually-fulfilled/indestructible/powerful/free. Of course, it’s just a thing and things can’t do that for us. But, we have millions and millions of commercials every day telling us otherwise. They tell us: there is something wrong with us. This product can fix it. And so we start to believe it. After all, as the oft-quoted, consistently inaccurately attributed line goes: “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes truth.” We start to believe that getting stuff is going to make us better, happier, more valuable. And being richer is the way to do it.
And it’s not like it’s just something we believe: this thinking—that wealth makes us valuable—plays out in our politics, our economic systems, our cultural lives. For example, landfills don’t get put in wealthy neighbourhoods. Neither do power plants that produce nasty waste or don’t look nice. Neither do water treatment plants that smell funny. However, stores that sell nice things, companies that bring in lots of money and provide good jobs, high-end business that treat employees with respect, natural parks, protected forests, museums, etc.—those places tend to be located in wealthy neighbourhoods. Not to mention, if you’re wealthy, it’s easier to get help, borrow money, corral resources to your benefit, take time off to lobby leaders and win favours, get education, etc. Society tells us, if you aren’t wealthy, you aren’t valuable. And treats us appropriately. Therefore, it’s freaking hard to be poor. And even when we aren’t poor, we feel like it would be so much easier if we just were a little wealthier.
And so to hear Jesus say something so radically different is more that just a little disorienting—it’s flat out uncomfortable. Jesus says being rich doesn’t make things easier—it makes things harder. Jesus says being rich doesn’t actually contribute to our value—it actually makes us misunderstand where we find our value. Jesus says that being rich doesn’t open the gates to heaven—rather the kingdom of God is purchased by the possibilities found in the riches of God. Jesus turns things on their head—and tells us the real truth: that we are children seeking the gaze of Christ that loves us more than we can imagine. And that what really matters is not what we can do “to inherit eternal life” but what God does for us.
And is that good news? I guess that depends on whether the cycle of getting more stuff is really satisfying or not. I think, for that rich man, he felt that there was something missing, something deeply not-quite-right in his life; otherwise, he never would have come seeking more. If he’d had abundant life already, he never would have come running up that dusty road to this crazy teacher. If this life that tells us what we have is what makes us valuable is really satisfying, then we would never need to seek anything else.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I seek—I seek a life that means more than the car I drive or the shampoo I use or the house I live in. I seek a life that is more profoundly defined than “I’m a Mac” or “I’m a PC.” I seek a life that isn’t valued by what is in my bank account. I seek a life that doesn’t leave me walking away from Jesus sad, because the things I have mean more to me than the incredible possibilities of God. And, so, I guess, what Jesus says here is pure hope: there is another way. There is life abundant. And more than that, it’s already given—free and clear. All I do is open my hands, letting go to receive.