(this is my April 2009 newsletter column)
Whenever a group from our church returns from a mission trip to Mexico or Nicaragua, someone always mentions the joy they saw even in the midst of great poverty. Our brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries experience real joy and peace from knowing Christ, maybe because they understand very well what it means to totally rely on God’s provision. When I see the pictures from Nicaragua and Mexico, and hear the testimonies of those who went there, I’m reminded how wealthy I am compared to most of the world. I don’t usually think of myself that way, but I have everything I need and much of what I want.
So when I read the story of Jesus and the rich young man who came to him for guidance, I realize I have a lot more in common with that young man than I usually like to admit. Jesus told the young man that even though he’d lived a good life, there was something lacking. He needed to sell his possessions and give to the poor, and then follow Jesus. The young man apparently found this too hard and went away sad, and without making any changes in his life. Jesus used this opportunity to teach his disciples about what it means to follow him. They didn’t find the teaching any more comfortable than the rich young man did.
It’s not that having wealth is a bad thing, but too often our material comfort leads to complacency. Our possessions can get in the way of our walk with Christ. Jesus told his disciples it was harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples were somewhat dismayed by this statment. In Jewish culture, as in ours, wealth was considered a sign that a person had done everything right. They were blessed. So if a wealthy person couldn’t get to heaven, who could? But Jesus reminds them that nothing is impossible with God.
I, like the rich young man, could say I’ve lived a pretty good life. And I, too, am uncomfortable with the idea that I might have to give up something to follow Jesus. But my salvation isn’t dependent on what I can do or on what I possess. It’s because of the saving work of Jesus Christ. And because of that I need to be willing to do whatever God asks of me. That’s the only way I’ll ever know the true riches that come from a life lived for Christ.