Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The demonization of a good man

The Rich Young Man
17As 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. 19You 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.'[d]"

20"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

21Jesus 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."

22At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"

24The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is[e] to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

26The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"

27Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

28Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"

29"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 30will 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. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

This passage is often argued about. And in the spirit of Kierkegaard I believe that we have by and large, used scholarship to keep this passage as far away from ourselves and our wallets as possible. And the way we have done this is by demonizing this rich young man.

You see the fact is, we like our money, we like our possessions, we like the security and comfort they bring us. And this scripture seems to attack these comforts. In order to keep this scripture away from us, limiting its damage to our good life, we have to make this man, a bad man. The deception goes like this: Jesus doesn't really have any problem with money, infact he wants to bless us with money. Ofcourse God wants us to be happy. The issue with this man, is that money had become his idol. He was a greedy man, who loved money more than anything else in his life, and this was the problem. Jesus in all of His Godness, saw that money was this mans god, and therefore had to confront him on this point. But this evil man loved money too much to leave it and follow Jesus. And therefore, it is this mans badness that is the issue here, not actually having all the stuff. Knowing that we are not greedy, and don't love money, then Jesus would never ask this of us! Whew!!! That was close

But I think we have really sold this young man down the river. What we don't understand is that this man was not a bad man at all. Infact he was a very good man. He lived his entire life believing in God, and trying to keep his commandments. He hears that this great teacher is coming, and he goes out of his way to find this teacher, and then submits himself. He shows his respect, by kneeling before Jesus, and calls him "good teacher". Jesus appears to brush him off at first by saying, "dude, you know what you are supposed to do, follow the commandments" And the guys says, "I have been doing this since I was a kid" Which means, "Look teacher, I have been doing what I know to do, I am asking for more, I am not satisfied with what I have been taught, I am looking for more" At this point Jesus recognizes in this man, someone who is really questing after God, and the text tells us that Jesus has love for him. In this moment of love, Jesus says, "IF YOU WANT TO BE PERFECT, SELL EVERYTHING, GIVE IT TO THE POOR AND FOLLOW ME"

Now we must realize two things here, the first is, Jesus is telling this guy not what it means to be a good person, or a good Jew even, Jesus is telling this good young man, what it means to really commit himself to God. The second thing we must realize, is that Jesus thinks enough of this man to ask him to follow. There were many other men that wanted to follow Jesus, but Jesus did not give the invitation, but to this man he did. This is hardly the mark of a greedy idolater.

Another thing we must realize is that this man lived in a time where monetary blessing was considered God's way of approving of you. If you look through Jewish history, money and rulership were considered signs of God's approval, and in fact the people are promised prosperity if they are good. So this man has grown up his entire life believing that his possessions were a sign that he was following God, and this would have been backed up by all of the religious leaders of his day. And this itinerate teacher prophet comes along and knowing him for five minutes asks him to sell everything he has, make himself destitute and follow Jesus. What about his servants? His family? His responsibilities?

Now much is made about the following passages, which I think is mostly quite silly. It is obvious that if you leave all and follow Jesus the only way you get a hundred fold mothers, is in the sense that all in God's kingdom, are called to share their own lives with you, including their homes, and food. But before we can even get to these other issues, we must come to grips with the fact that this invitation did not come to a bad man, but was offered because he was a good man. And as soon as we realize that, it puts us a great deal closer to this story. And our wallets too.



Heather said...

Wow. That post got me thinking! That mindset of demonising the rich man is so much easier to handle.

Gods_Rhema said...

Jesus left out two important commandments, do not worship idols and do not covet. Jesus like you said Rev gave him an actual invitation which is full-on, but he knew the man worshipped money as his God and coveted with it being his focus, although he was a very good man.
Apparently Rev theologians have studied this man they come to the conclusion he did end up saved..

Justin said...

I'm confused with the end message of your argument. Same with the guys on mma forum. So is it good or bad to be rich? You seem to support both? How can wealth be bad if God blesses people with money? I know i'm slow, sorry. It would have made more sense to me if jesus would have just flying arm bared the dude.

The Rev said...

sorry, I believe that the call to follow Jesus is always a call to be downwardly mobile. To love others by not storing up treasures for ourselves here on earth. To being a prophetic life that stands in direct contrast to the materialism and consumerism that is the god or our age. It is bad to be rich, and god calls us to give away our money and to live simply.

And rhema, I think that is just an example of what I am talking about. Making this scripture far from you so you don't have to do the same.


Justin said...

Thanks for the clarity. I really enjoyed your rebutle posts to rooster as well. I refuse to post on there because of people like that. I'm having a lot of trouble with this issue right now. Its really hard being back in the states, i'll shhot you an email later.