Today's gospel reading is the very familiar dialogue between Jesus and the rich young ruler (Mark 10.17-31). Jesus transitions between this interaction with the young man and his follow-on discussion with the disciples with this very hard-hitting statement:
How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! (Mark 10.23 CSB)
If you have the ability to read this post, you're most likely affluent enough for Jesus to consider you wealthy. I'm not about to draw an income above which this applies and below which it doesn't. Practically anything can be 'wealth' that pulls our hearts and attention away from God.
Jesus' point is one of focus, affection, and security--not one of the bottom line. Our hearts tend to become attached to our possessions. In them we find pleasure, which of itself is not necessarily bad. But in them also we tend to place our security and trust (think IRAs and savings accounts, do you have enough to weather financial uncertainty?). In them we also find anxiety, worrying about losing what we labored so hard to gather and store up. In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains the First Commandment by saying, "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things." For many, the 'god' in whom we fear, love, and trust above all things is not the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but the almighty dollar.
St. Augustine sums up well the predicament we find ourselves in regarding wealth and possessions. He writes:
They are gained with toil and kept with fear. They are enjoyed with danger and lost with grief. It is hard to be saved if we have them; and impossible if we love them; and scarcely can we have them, but we shall love them inordinately. Teach us, O Lord, this difficult lesson: to manage conscientiously the goods we possess, and not covetously desire more than you give to us.
Admittedly, in our Western, materialistic, self-centered culture keeping our hearts rightly focused on God instead of 'stuff' can be downright difficult. But struggle we must. We must fight the tendency to hoard wealth, not trusting in God to provide our 'daily bread.' We must wrestle with the desire to find our highest pleasures in 'stuff' while failing to find true joy in Christ. We must slay our tendencies to find security in our things instead of finding peace in God. May God grant us grace to keep our fear, love, and trust squarely focused on him and nowhere else.
Photo by Meik Schneider on Unsplash