“Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”[…..] “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”
This is a topic I’ve reflected on for many years. The wealthy young man in Matthew 19 wanted to know what it takes to get to heaven. Jesus response initially is to obey the commandments, and the man asked which ones? Actually that response shows a level of naiveté since all of the commandments are important. Still, the young wealthy man presses on and says he kept the short list but wanted more. Jesus’s response is interesting: He says “if you want to be “perfect”, then give up your wealth. Perfect? Do you want to be “perfect” in God’s eyes? Wow! What a promise. But the promise has a catch – being perfect in God’s eyes means that you have to relinquish everything in your hands that holds you back. To the wealthy young man, he had to give up his wealth, which saddened him because he knew that was too costly a price to pay.
This story is one which put a strong emphasis on self-sacrifice. What do we have to give up to be “perfect’ in God’s eyes. It’s been my long-standing opinion in the western world that our wealth – or affluence – is in direct opposition to our ability to be dependent on God. When one is affluent, one has all of their economic and physical needs met. You don’t get up in the morning wondering where your food for the day will come. In biblical times, however, the definition of a wealthy person was one who had a cloak on his back, and a spare cloak to sleep on, and food for the next day’s meal accounted for. For us, that would not be considered extravagant of wealthy, but just meeting the bare essentials. What a far cry from our world where many in America have multiple cars, multiple televisions, multiple houses, etc.
Affluenza is a term coined recently in a TV series which chronicled the social impact of materialism and over-consumption. Its definition is “a psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.” Note that it results in an attitude of lack of motivation for any purpose in life since wealth has effectively been an anesthetic to the soul.
Affluenza – or having the condition of affluence – has contributed to a shocking impact on spirituality in Europe. Two generations ago, 75% of people in France were Christians. Now, after several decades of relative affluence, that number is 5%. The same is happening in the United States – people who have the material means to glide through life without many financial cares just don’t see any need to have a spiritual life because they feel invincible. Well, they feel invincible until a bump in the road comes, like the conversation with your doctor when you find you have a terminal illness and have only a month to live, or when you get a phone call that your child has been in a serious accident. At that moment, your wealth can’t help the situation.
If it were up to me, I would add affluence to make it the eighth “deadly” sin since its impact is culturally accepted yet its damage is pervasive. Our culture approves if one betters his station in life. Nothing wrong with that, but one of the unintended consequences of success is a loss of spiritual direction and a dependency on God. Only when you are dependent on God for everything will you realize that even our financial success is a result of God’s grace.
Our challenge is the same one in the Matthew passage – if we want to be “perfect” then we have to be willing to give up what holds us back from being totally reliant on God. It may not be material possessions – it could be something else like an ambition for power, or a sexual addiction or even a hobby that consumes you. Until you are willing to let go and let God, you won’t be perfect in God’s eyes. That’s a challenge for all of us, because if you are like me, you are holding on to something tightly that God wants you to let go of. May today be the day that you start to loosen your grip on whatever is holding you back from being “perfect” in God’s eyes.
PICTURE: The picture above is of The Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island, which was built in the early 1900’s along with scores of other mansions which were “summer cottages” of the very rich and portray the “gilded opulence of a bygone era”. http://www.newportmansions.org
WORSHIP: Listen to Vertical Church Bank sing about being freed of shackles in a high intensity song which is one of my favorites: