Monday, January 25, 2010

Jesus on Money (5) - Rich Young Ruler

One person who was unwilling to say goodbye to his wealth was the rich young rulers. He had asked Jesus what he needed to do to obtain eternal life. When Jesus told him to keep the commandments, he said he had kept them all since he was a boy.

Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property (Luke 18:22-23).
This man was very rich. The only way you could get rich in Jesus time was to collude with Herod or with the Romans, so the young man was lying when he said he had kept all the commandments. He was living on wealth that had been stolen from his owner.

The young man was a ruler. To retain this position, he would have collude with the violence of the Roman political and military system.

Riches and rulers go together. For example,Mary prophesied:
He has brought down rulers from their thrones….
but has sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:54,55).
When rulers fall, the rich suffer seriously, because their riches come from their relationships with the rulers.

Mathew records that the young ruler owned much property. The word used for possession is “ktema”, which is not the word generally used for possessions in the New Testament (uparxis). I have wondered why Matthew used a different word for the rich young ruler. I found a possible answer in the Lexicon of Ardnt and Gingrich (B218). They quote a reference which uses this word to mean “acquire in reward for wickedness”.

The wealth that rich young ruler controlled was probably the fruit of wickedness. He could not retain the fruits of unrighteousness and follow Jesus. We must get rid of all wealth that is the fruit of unrighteousness behaviour, if we are serious about following Jesus.


August said...

I think Kenneth E. Bailey deals with this passage in Poet and Peasant, though I might be mistaken. He's got a few other books, and you'd probably like him.

Anyway, I don't know if I can do justice to his research in a comment, but here's a short try:
Land=wealth in the Middle East.
The 'rich' man would actually be a leader of an extended family and what Jesus told him to do would mean being outcast from family as well as great risk and uncertainty to that family. We are easily talking up to 200 people here.

Selling any land would be enough for your clan to cast you out- reference to this is also found in the prodigal son story.

Just assuming he lied and that he just likes being rich misses the true challenge Jesus gave him. This is one of the reasons sinners could respond to Jesus more easily- they had already been cast out of that close knit society.

Bailey's work centered around learning about Middle Eastern peasant society and then using that knowledge to understand how the Jews would have received what Jesus was saying. Again, I feel I'm not doing justice, so if at all possible, please give him a read.

Blessed Economist said...

Thanks I will try and look up his stuff. I agree that it is important to understand the parable in the correct context.

I also agree that the rich young ruler would have a household who were dependent on him, but I am not sure how that changes the interpretation. I do not believe that Jesus was going round telling people to leave their families destitute, so I think something else must have been going on. I believe that Jesus was putting his finger on the fact that he was the owner of unrighteous wealth.

Samuel said...

Thank you for your insights and teaching on this scripture.

I looks like this man had a deep neurological (heart) fix on unrighteous wealth acquisition.

This could only be truly resolved by reversing his ingrained behavior via radical and practical act of doing, rooted in the right type of mind-changing emotions that confess the depth of the sin and wanting change.

This would have given birth to renewed and righteous emotions (Character) by his faith in the power of God. And this wold have been his fruitful repentance.

In many ways, we all can identify with this man in various parts of our lives where we are faced with the temptation of holding on to, and relying on worthless things (our little gods which get in the way of our true relationship with our true God).

I wonder if Matthew new this man, since Matthew himself was a tax collector, and regarded as a traitor to the Jews before Jesus called him out to follow him.

So the question is: Which of these two responses do we make in regard to following Jesus; the rich young man's, or Matthew's?