Mark 10:17-27 records this event in Jesus’ ministry:
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: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall 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 someone who is rich 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.”
In this passage, is Jesus condemning wealth? Not necessarily. Jesus knew the young man’s heart, and understood that his priorities were askew: God has to come first. To follow Jesus, our eyes must be on him and not on a bank account or a future inheritance. Things don’t make a Christian rich; belief and faith enrich a Christian’s life. Jesus said we were to lay up treasures in heaven “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). And it is this statement that encapsulates Jesus’ attitude toward materialism.
If our attention is on acquiring a hefty CD balance or on having the newest car in the garage, we’re like the rich young man — putting stuff before our relationship with God. We become dependent on money and the things we own to prepare us for the future. This appetite cannot be satisfied; our attention must be square on the things of God before anything else.
Making God our priority isn’t easy in a society that values life in a good neighborhood, and the best we can afford in clothes, furniture, electronics, and beyond the day to day, exotic vacations and lavish gifts.
But living for our selves and our comfort is not God’s way. The disciples “gave up everything” to follow Jesus. James, John and Peter abandoned their fishing business; Levi (Matthew) walked away from his lucrative life as a tax collector. Why? They each sensed something more important — eternal — in Jesus’ message and life. They decided to be as close to Jesus as possible.
Personal confession: I love to shop and buy clothes. My closet is so full I need to prune half of its content to fit purchases on the rack. I know this doesn’t honor God; my priorities are as skewed as the rich young man’s.
But here’s the remedy: repentance, turning from old habits to new ones is the beginning of a better, God-centered way. Will clothes make me happy? Will it matter in heaven? Not a whit.
And what does my example teach my grand kids? “Grandma loves to shop.” They must also ask whether Grandma loves them. I do. I also love watching baseball and basketball, walking to Starbucks, seeing the ocean. But if any of these things comes before my love of God, something is amiss.
Of Jesus’ 39 recorded parables, at least ten are on the subject of money and possessions. Their place in human life was as problematic then as it is now. Reordering our priorities and making purposeful choices mindful of the will of God are our recourse. A beloved hymn shares this promise:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Written by Phyllis Gilbert, Bible 101 ministry leader.