Well this week’s gospel offering is even more contentious that last week’s aabout marriage and divorce . It is about money and what we do with it.
As I wrote mid-week - Given that most Anglicans are middle class and by most measures rather affluent, I fancy there is no other area that causes us more embarrassment than our money if we are to read the gospels diligently.
The parable of the rich young man is one such that has the capacity to make us all feel a little uncomfortable and embarrassed. Jesus confronts the obviously pious and otherwise devout young man who kneels before Jesus and as he says “keeps all the commandments” had asked Jesus "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus who sees deeply into his soul, sees his real needs and insecurities and tells him “to give away all his possessions to the poor”. He follows this up with his famous line that it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
What shall we say about such a wild and radical thing to say? Well if we look around the rest of the New Testament for interpretive tools and clues we find that for one thing Jesus knows that equality in income is here to stay. He says "You will always have the poor with you" (Mark 14:7). Also in the (often misinterpreted) incident when Jesus is presented with a coin with Caesar's head on it and asked if it is lawful to pay taxes his answer "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's" (Mark 12: 17) is in context an extremely clever way of saying that in effect nothing belongs to Caesar - at the end of the day everything belongs to God.
But the best interpretive tool we have in the New Testament is "For the love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10).
Money in and of itself is not the problem. In fact, even in the first century the church relied on rich people to support the young church and even Jesus and his disciples relied on provisions supplied by comfortable women (Luke 8: 1-3). Wealth creation is not derided. As Margaret Thatcher once said, wealth has to be created first for it then to be used for any purpose, including the welfare state, with important caveats of course that to the Christian, people are always more important than money.
The concerns Jesus raises in the heart of this young man (who actually represents all of us) is his singleness of mind and true loyalties and priorities. So it is not money per se but what you do with your money that counts, and ultimately what do you love most - God or money - because you cannot serve two masters (Luke 16:13). As Saint Paul says you are bound to be a slave to something, so whose slave are you - God or mammon?
Possessions are nice but how firmly are you attached to them?
How do we use our money. Do we store it up in barns or put it to good use. How much money do we give away? The Biblical standard is the tithe - 10%.
The real question is not "Do I give everything to the poor" but the actual question cuts cuts just as deeply and is just as uncomfortable if we take a good hard look at ourselves. Do we care more for God or for things? What are our priorities in life?