The Rich Young Ruler
The Rich Young Ruler
Would that I had based my text on the final sentence of the gospel before us today, 'Many who are first will be last and the last will be first… Bob and I were supposed to be seated in Westminster Abbey by 10-45 a.m. on Thursday, to see a friend being consecrated bishop, but we were held up because of a 20-minute delay on the London Underground. However as the proceedings had started, we had to wait breathless just inside the main door, having run all the way from Westminster station.
When we were shown to our seats, we remarked quietly to each other that there was a good God above us, as we were shown right to the front row in the south transept, and had the best view that anyone could wish for, of the induction and of the Eucharist led by none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. The last indeed came first. If we arrived twenty minutes earlier, we would have been sat at the very back.
However that’s NOT the sentence I want to draw your attention to. Today I want to concentrate upon the character of the rich young ruler.
Somewhere in the back of my mind is a story, told to me when I was young, which may or may not be true, but it’s interesting and it relates to our gospel reading.
It has something to do with a method of catching monkeys. Native people would set out quite heavy jars with narrow necks, and place a few peanuts inside. An inquisitive monkey would come along, and put its hand inside and grasp a fistful of peanuts, thus entrapping itself, because it simply refused to let go of its treasure…rather like the rich young ruler in our gospel.
Here was a chance for him to be gloriously free and rich in ways of the kingdom, a chance to become one of the inner circle of disciples, under the guidance of the best teacher ever, but he could not release his grasp on the wealth he owned.
The rich young man seemed in every sense a clean, godly person, a leader of men, from the best background possible.
As we have been hearing only this week, it seems an impossible feat to be a rich young ruler and steer clear of all the temptations around, what with the best champagnes, the best accommodation, and eager admirers throwing themselves at you.
But it seems this young man had managed to keep the six commandments Jesus mentioned to him: the six that are about our relationships with other people. Jesus could see he was sincere and good hearted, he looked upon him and loved him.
If such a man were to request membership of any establishment of faith in this day and age, I’m sure they would see him as quite a catch! Here certainly would be a good and intelligent man, who could certainly see that the church wouldn’t go under with quota to pay, here would be a possible candidate for ministry, not to speak of the church’s street cred and reputation, to have such a personality in the congregation.
I wonder if the disciples thought similar thoughts? For this young ruler seemed to meet all the requirements for discipleship, respectable, good living, a seeking heart and a willingness to follow…from a privileged background too, unlike many of the disciples, some of whom had very dubious pasts.
The disciples were shocked and astounded by Jesus’ reply to the rich, young man…
‘You lack one thing, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.’
Could Jesus see right into the heart of this young man weaknesses, or did he make an assessment of him by the clothing he wore?
Or does the clue lie somewhere in the question he put to Jesus,
‘Good teacher, what must I do to INHERIT eternal life?’
Perhaps this young man’s perception of the kingdom was to do with acquisition, was the kingdom something he thought he could possess? Or perhaps he was seeking an insurance policy for the after-life?
Perhaps the question Jesus put to him was purely a practical one, after all the young man could hardly follow Jesus up hill and down dale and to the cross itself, followed by a large retinue of servants and possessions to meet his every need.
Like the monkey with its hand in the tight necked jar, he failed to see that releasing his grip on wealth would have brought him far greater benefits, such as freedom, contentment, and more importantly, life itself.
Jesus did not reject this young man, he merely challenged his calling, by indirectly summing up the other four commandments which pertain to God himself. In other words did he love God, or did he love his wealth more?
It’s worth asking ourselves this morning, is there anything which consumes us, more than our love for God?
Is there a similar statement that Jesus might have put to us, if we had been there then, that would have brought about a similar response from us?
What if Jesus were to say to disciples of this day and age,
First get rid of the five televisions in your home…then follow me
First get rid of the two cars…
First give a tenth of all you own…
Now we began to see why this demand of Jesus to the rich young ruler was such a huge request, and why in the early church it really cost something to become a Christian, because even though all Christians in the early church were not called to surrender everything, they certainly gave with far more generous hearts than we do today.
They were called to give in such a way, that the poor would fed, and no-one was in need. They were called not to give and impoverish themselves, but that there should be equality.
Their giving had something to say about their love for God, as indeed with this rich, young ruler.
What indeed would Jesus have to say in today’s world?
As Christians we’re so quick to judge right from wrong, but what about Poverty… the biggest crime in the world today?
Who are the guilty ones?
We’re seeing at present how wealth cripples nations, and brings no real satisfaction, no true contentment, no freedom really, and our nation is one of the richer nations. What wealth does, is bring about self-indulgent individualism, materialism, consumerism and the exploitation of the weak.
Rather than face up to our neglect of the poor in our world, we allow ourselves to become anaesthetised with all manner of things designed to shut out the guilt. 'What we can't see, doesn't hurt'
Today, in the West, it seems that human identity is often defined by what a person owns. We’re filled with admiration for wealthy celebrities who have become the new idols and gods, adored by millions, yet we hear more and more how they are not always able to handle their new-found wealth or their fame.
It seems that prosperity and affluence tend to make people assume that they have a right to all that prosperity can bring, and they become more and more selfish in their demands, and some more warped in their thinking perhaps through drink or drugs, while at the same time sadly wielding tremendous influence over adoring fans.
Pope John Paul II once said,
‘When the moral fibre of the nation is weakened, when the sense of personal responsibility is diminished, then the door is open for the justification of injustice, for violence in all its forms, and for the manipulation of the many by the few. He continued, ‘The challenge that is already with us is the temptation to accept as true freedom what in reality is only a new form of slavery’.
And so we must ask ourselves first, as INDIVIDUALS this morning, in the light of the young ruler and also the trapped monkey, are WE slaves to anything? Are we free to follow where our Lord will lead us as true disciples?
And speaking as citizens of one of the richest nation in the world, aswell as being citizens of the kingdom of Jesus, what can our church do to bring about changes in our society, and bring true freedom, contentment and life in abundance? How can we lEad the way?
As Archbishop Rowan Williams said in his sermon on Friday at St Paul’s Memorial Service,
‘Moral Vision is harder to convert into reality than we should like….’
We may have the ‘Vision’ of such freedom, but can we actually get our hands out of the tight-necked jar?