Dear Jesus … Define Rich

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 147:1-11, Obadiah 15-21, 1 Peter 2:1-10, Matthew 19:23-30


One of the favorite ornaments on our family Christmas tree is in the shape of a letter to Santa. Its message is short: “Dear Santa … Define good!”

“Good” is one of those terms which can seem eternally undefinable. Good compared to whom? When a rich young man asked Christ what good deed would guarantee him eternal life, Jesus replied, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.”  After pressing Jesus on the matter, the young man left grief-stricken because Jesus told him to sell all his many possessions and give his money to the poor. When Jesus then told the disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” they wondered if anyone could be saved. Jesus responded with a warning and reassurance that God made it possible.

“Rich” is another one of those words which seems to reside on a sliding scale. Most of us define “rich” in terms of wealth which definitely exceeds our own. How rich do we think the young man was? How many possessions is “many?” These concepts are skewed by the community and culture in which we live.

I consider my family to be solidly middle class, but compared to say the billions of people in the world without safe access to toilets, we are almost obscenely wealthy. During conversations about relative wealth, some friends and co-workers have suggested that it isn’t fair to compare first- and third-world standards. It’s almost as if they (and, I must admit, I) are reluctant to admit that in the overall scope of the human family, we are – as a fellow churchgoer described us in a way that was less than flattering – rich as $#!%. Of course to some other friends struggling to get by, that fellow churchgoer enjoyed a highly enviable level of comfort.

Since it’s all relative, the question then becomes not do we think we are rich, but does Jesus think we are rich? If we can consider his conversation with the young man to be an indicator of that standard, the threshold seems to be whether we retain anything we could part with to better follow him. We should probably be pretty aggressive about answering that.

Do we need to part with absolutely everything? Jesus didn’t require that of everyone around him. Do we need to be willing to part with anything that stands between us and Christ? Absolutely.

We may not be able to agree on a textbook definition of “rich” … but valuing something more than we value Christ is a price too high for any of us to pay.

Comfort: The most valuable thing we have was given to us for free.

Challenge: Consider donating to WaterAid or similar charities which help deliver clean water and facilities to people living in poverty.

Prayer: Merciful and loving  God, teach me to appreciate what I have in terms of how I might spend it to help others in need. Amen.

Discussion: In your opinion, how rich is too rich?

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