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Point of Reference

    by Fred Price

Two Rich Men and a Rabbi
Date Posted: April 21, 2023

Mark records a rich ruler running up to Jesus and falling on his knees, asking “Good teacher (Rabbi), what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Mark 10:17 Jesus answered by reciting five of the Ten Commandments, to which the man replied, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” Before commenting more – and I believe this is important – Mark records that, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Mark 10:21,22 I think Jesus may have smiled a bit at the young man’s enthusiastic presumption at keeping all the law and loved him because of his enthusiastic desire to be “perfect” in attempting to gain salvation.

Jesus nowhere condemned him because of his wealth nor questioned his sincerity, but did discern his attachment to wealth; many in Jesus time – and ours – equating good fortune with God’s approval. Jesus told him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.” Luke 18:22 It’s important to note that Jesus didn’t say, ‘and you will be saved.’ This critique being reminiscent of his warning for us to not store up treasure on earth, where it is in constant danger, but to see the worth of heavenly treasure, which is safeguarded. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21Specifically warning us to, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15

“At this, the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” Again, note that Jesus didn’t say the rich man couldn’t be saved when he observed, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:22,23That difficulty arising because the more we have the more there is to care for, the desire to grow our wealth and maintain our possessions driving us to questionable business or accounting practices; at other times we become less generous and thoughtful of those in need. (See 1 Timothy 6:6-10) It comes down to what we “treasure”, what we pay attention to, what we do with that “extra” money; not thinking that God possibly blesses us with excess so we can use it to further his kingdom rather than our own. Sometimes we end up “serving” money rather than our money serving us. ( Matthew 6:24) The repercussions of our responding appropriately – or not – to the less fortunate around us are graphically depicted by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-45 (See also Mark 10:29-31)

The other rich man Jesus dealt with was Zacchaeus – the wee little man – who was none-the-less big in his own world. Not merely a tax collector but a chief tax collector. To the Romans, a man of relatively high standing and influence. To the Jews, a money-loving, dishonest, traitor; an outcast and outlaw. They were Jews who colluded with the enemy and collected their tribute money; often charging above and beyond the legal limit and pocketing it.

Zacchaeus desperately wanted to see Jesus but was too short to get a view of him amongst the crowd, so he did something rather undignified for a grown man of his reputation, he climbed a tree. Throughout scripture, tax collectors seemed drawn to Jesus and he responded to them. ( Luke 15:1,2) Jesus did so on this occasion, looking up and recognizing Zacchaeus sitting on a limb; and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner.

Zacchaeus presumably had heard of Jesus, he may have attended one or more of his outdoor evangelical “rallies.” Scripture doesn’t relate what specifically was said or discussed during Jesus’ visit except to note that at some point Zacchaeus stood before Jesus and promised to reimburse anyone he had cheated four times the amount and to give half his possessions to the poor. Evidently recognizing the connection between faith, finances and values.

Jesus didn’t require him to give up all he had because Zacchaeus had so spontaneously offered to make amends for his sins. The rich young ruler’s heart may have been leaning toward doing the right thing but still struggled with his commitment to faith and faithfulness versus his allegiance to money, and Jesus will often challenge us to remove anything that separates us from a genuinely full commitment to him and his way.

Being poor is not a pre-requisite to Christianity. The early church’s success among the poor does highlight, however, the appeal Jesus had for the poor and his affinity for them. They knew they couldn’t “save” themselves and looked to something/someone for help. The disciples communal sharing was more a device of necessity than a practice of doctrine; even as it served as an example of the loving concern the early Christians had for each other and their neighbors, drawing them into the fold. (See Acts 2:44,45; 4:32 and on a sour note, 6:1)

The incident between Ananias and Sapphira – though shocking – proves this point. Ananias and Sapphira conspired to sell a piece of property and present the proceeds to the church, while secretly keeping a portion for themselves; seeking personal affirmation by using their resources in a dishonest way. Peter affirmed that the property and money was theirs to use as they saw fit, but they had chosen to fudge the books, claiming to do one thing while actually doing another; lying not to men so much as lying to God. ( Acts 5:1-11)

Jesus often used hyperbole to make a point, such as in Matthew 5:29,30. If we literally practiced this dictum we’d all be walking around without eyes or hands. The point was that sin is deadly serious and we need to stop engaging in it. Jesus’ insistence that we share our wealth instead of hoarding it highlights money’s potential for selfish “sinful” purposes as well as good. The ideal Christian life attained by simplifying our lives and stop being driven by the acquisition of more. The command to give it all away likewise being an ideal not entirely possible, but meant to promote what is.

And while there is a promise of “reward” to this effort, it probably won’t be in cold, hard cash. Jesus assuring us that if we, “Give,… it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over,… For with the measure you give, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38 (See also Luke 12:48)

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Biography Information:

Fred Price - married (50 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.

Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker.  He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today.  Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.  

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