Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Jesus and the Rich Man- Part 3

What Jesus demanded of the rich man, Jesus' disciples, and all of us who want to be followers of Christ is a difficult teaching;  for this reason, the rich man walked away downcast.  Jesus tells us how hard it is to enter the kingdom of heaven, particularly for the wealthy.  Jesus uses the eye of the needle analogy to make His point clear. (By the way, the eye of the needle is just that, not the gate in Jerusalem, which didn’t exist in Jesus’ day.)

The issue here is trust, not money.  Jesus was no Marxist.  Money is not inherently evil.  Money has its purposes, even in bringing about justice, as we have seen in what Jesus demanded of the rich man.  We also see this in Jesus’ parable of the unfaithful manager (Luke 16:1-14).  Money is not evil; but the evil is putting one's trust in money.  This is why Jesus, teaches us,

"No servant is able to serve two masters; for either he/she will hate one and love the other, or he/she will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money." (Luke 16:13)

No, the problem with all of us is a misplaced trust.  We all want to be our own god, but deep down we know we are hopelessly fallible, so we attempt to protect ourselves from our own fallibility by amassing wealth, which is essentially power.  In short, we put our trust in wealth, instead of God.  But as we see with the rich man, wealth doesn’t engender mercy and love; instead it hinders it, because by trusting in wealth, we possess it.  And such possessiveness always leads to hate, in the end.

The rich man will have to do some serious soul-searching.  It just isn’t easy to trust Jesus to the extent we willingly cut all the lifelines by which we have secured ourselves—or so we have deluded ourselves to believe.   This begins to dawn on Jesus’ disciples.  “How can anyone be saved?”  First, if the rich aren’t saved--indeed, it is more difficult for them to be saved because of their wealth--and everyone always believed their wealth was evidence of God’s favor, what hope is there for anyone?  Second, if dwelling in the kingdom of God demands goodness, and goodness can only be attained through an unconditional trust in Jesus—a trust really beyond us because of our inherent fear—how can anyone be saved?

Jesus explains that it is impossible in the presence of man (i.e., trusting in human wisdom, methods, and institutions), but all things are possible in the presence of God (i.e., standing in the kingdom of God, in Christ).  And God achieves this through His son, Jesus the Christ.  This is the gospel.  Jesus is king and is offering his kingdom to us.  He is king because he overcame death on the cross; Jesus is alive!  And the kingdom has come for us because, through His death on the cross, forgiveness is possible with our repentance, which is dying with Him; and because He lives, eternal life is possible by living through Him; and because of Him, goodness to dwell with God is possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  These three define what it means to dwell in the kingdom of God, and fundamentally involves a trust.  Hence, we are truly justified only by faith alone.  The basis of the kingdom of God is faith, not the Law, because only by faith can we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God.

We learn with the rich man, then, that the kingdom of God is based on Goodness, defined as the tension of mercy and justice that can only be achieved through the joining of ourselves with Christ.  In short,

As dwellers of the Kingdom of God we must trust God unconditionally by surrendering ourselves completely to our Lord, Master, King Jesus.