There is a lot of commentary and centuries of misconception about the story of the rich young ruler. Many have taken Jesus’ words to mean that we should give away all our possessions and live a life of poverty, or a least get along with as little as possible. This is incorrect. The point of the story is simple – it’s not easy for the rich to submit to the rule of God.
The description Rich, Young, and Ruler speaks volumes. Basically, there’s this kid with a lot of money and power. This is never a good scenario. Although, he lacks the wisdom, experience, and humility of a seasoned leader, he does indeed recognize the need for something more. So he asks Jesus.
He says, Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Perhaps sensing that he was trying to be influenced by compliments, Jesus reminds him who is in charge, saying, Why do you call me good? Only God is good. Jesus goes on to list the commandments, to which the kid replies he has kept. Knowing he has not or he would not be asking the question, Jesus gives him some instruction to “wake him up” to what he really worships – money and power. He tells him to sell all he has, give to the poor, and follow him. The kid walks away pretty bummed out.
Giving up money and power is low on most folks to do lists. We want what we want when we want it. We don’t want to submit. No one even likes the word. This is not a story about poverty. Poverty is not an ideal. It’s not something to strive for. As always, Jesus is after what’s in our hearts. Jesus is saying, “Look kid, you’ve got some skills, but come follow me and discover what’s truly valuable.
Because of his love of wealth, the kid was missing the boat. Jesus wasn’t saying get rid of your wealth because it’s bad, but because he couldn’t handle it correctly. We can follow Jesus regardless of our wealth. And we can also worship wealth regardless of our wealth. Dallas Willard puts it this way: The percentage of those in bondage to wealth is no greater among the rich than among the poor.
We know the kid goes away unhappy – grieving. We do not know if he eventually takes Jesus’ tip. In fact, lots of folks say how the heck can anyone enter the kingdom? But Jesus puts their fears to rest, stating, What is impossible with man is possible with God.
Money is good. A lot of good can be done with it in the right hands. The love of money is the real problem.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson