In Mark’s Gospel, chapter 10, we read about a man who comes to Jesus to beg his advice on salvation. He is wealthy, and (by his own admission) upright. But his exchange with Jesus takes a troubling turn. Mark says that Jesus looked at him and loved him and then said, “One thing you lack: depart, such things that you have, sell them, give them to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.” It then says that this man was shocked at these words, and departed grieving, because he had great wealth.
We make a lot of assumptions about this man. We presume that, because he departs grieving, that he hasn’t learned his lesson. We presume that because he claims to have followed the commandments, he must be a liar and therefore insincere. We presume that his wealth is the demise of his spiritual life.
I also think we judge him too hastily.
The truth is, we part company from him without knowing his outcome. We don’t know if he departs gloomily because he’s planning how to distribute his wealth. We don’t know if he’s just dealing with the shock of Jesus’ teaching, later to come around and follow after Jesus. But there is, perhaps, one thing we do know: from this point forward, he can never unreservedly take pleasure in his wealth. He will never sit perfectly comfortable at a wealthy table and think that his wealth is the perfect blessing of God. He will never again view a poor person without thinking of Jesus’ command to give his wealth away. We may not know the outcome of his story, but we do know this: he will never again be happy with things as they have been.
This is a lesson I think we are eager to overlook. I live in the first world, most of you reading this do as well. We are, by the standards of the world, remarkably wealthy. But we never look at our own wealth in those terms, we always consider our wealth in relation to those who are wealthier than us. What this means, for a scripture like this, is that we refuse to apply it to ourselves because we think, “Jesus is talking to really wealthy people, not me.” But that’s our error. As with this rich man in Mark 10, Jesus by this teaching poisons all our wealth too. As with him, we can never unreservedly enjoy the pleasure of good things again. We must always view our possessions in light of Jesus’ radical call to self-sacrifice. And if we are not even the slightest bit shocked or gloomy by these words, then I suggest we might be a little delusional. Obedience will be hard. But it is the only way to gain treasure in heaven.