Rich, Empty Men

You know that story where Jesus told the rich man to give his possessions to the poor and become a follower? A version is found in Mark 10:17-22.

And as Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Some read that as Jesus inviting him to a life devoid of joy. I read it as Jesus inviting him to leave behind his source of unhappiness and live into blessedness — as one both blessed and blessing.

(This is no prosperity gospel: He’s not inviting us to more earthly riches or saying we will not suffer. But the Spirit he gifts us blooms in our hearts the fruit of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.) 

Mark writes, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”

Jesus, in his love for the man, realized the anxiety in hoarding, in never-satisfied greed, in the more-more-more that stripped the man from his own soul.

So, in his love, Jesus told the rich man what he needed but wasn’t yet realizing or willing to admit. He didn’t dismiss the man’s moral habits or possessions, but instead told him how to make them useful in the context of a new relationship with Christ, and how to rescue his soul from the whirlpool threatening to drown him.

Jesus offers him a new identity not tied to his idols of self-righteousness and possessions. Jesus isn’t demonizing the material or morality; he’s giving the man a unique heart diagnosis, just as he does for each of us who surrender all to follow him today.

In the same way, he diagnosed my fears of abandonment, my love for ambition, my foolishness with power, the objectification of my lust, my health security anxiety. He gave me the most straightforward treatment that my flesh continually rails against today: Surrender. I surrender my loneliness for the I Am, I surrender my desire for perfection for the Perfect, I surrender my power for the Lowly Most High, I surrender my lust for the Intimate, I surrender my insecurity for the Shepherd. I believe you’ll find we share the same needs.

I wish the rich man turned back and realized the real source of his sorrow. I wish he confessed to own up to the condition of his soul. I wish he saw the reality behind why he couldn’t surrender into a love far greater than the inanimate, the colorful delight to be realized in living life to the full with Christ. I now know a purpose-driven, sacrificial man with deeply rooted identity will find far more joy than the one eternally chasing the ephemeral, the vapor. I now can tell the man with a restful soul apart from the one who mentally toils without limit.

“Come to me,” Jesus says, “all you who are weary and burdened. And I will give you rest.”

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