Friday, March 11, 2011

It's not just about the money

I recently heard a challenging talk by David Williams (CMS Australia) about the account in Luke 18 of Jesus' encounter with the rich young ruler. This occurs in the context of many status reversals in Luke 18 and 19; e.g., the pride will be humbled and the humble will be exalted.

Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 23But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said,  "How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 

A few cultural insights I found gave the text a richer meaning and challenge.

In the affluent West we see possessions as belonging solely to us (and perhaps our spouse as well). In contrast, in other cultures, possessions belong to the extended family and sometimes even to the broader community. Hence, when Jesus challenged the man to give up his money he was also challenging him to separate from his family.

Jesus challenged the man's theology. He would have believed that his riches resulted from God blessing him due to his obedience.

Jesus challenged the man's sense of identity. In African culture, self identity comes from father, from land, and from tribe. Similarly, God's call to Abraham in Genesis 12 was to leave family, land, and nation. Yet God promised replacement blessings. Jesus does the same:

"Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,30who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life."

Wealth breeds pride, independence, self-sufficiency, and autonomy.
Salvation is about being like the poor blind beggar and desperately casting ourselves at Jesus mercy.

The rich young man went away sorrowful, by James Tissot.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome - thanks - I will definitely use this at some point :)