The insidiousness of the influence of wealth upon those who have it is aptly illustrated by Jacob Loewen in his account of a seminar on worldview which he conducted for some Indian teachers and their missionary colleagues several years ago. He explained to the group that each culture has at its center an “axle” from which radiates all the “spokes” which hold the wheel together and help it perform its appointed tasks smoothly and without undue difficulty. Wondering whether he was getting through to the teachers, he asked them to name the hub around which the (foreign) missionaries way of life revolved. “Money!” was the unhesitating and unanimous response from the group. The missionaries were visibly taken aback.
Asked by the slightly incredulous Loewen how they could be so sure that money was the axle of the missionaries’ worldview, the Indian teachers recounted incidents which in their eyes were clear proof that money was at the core of all material and spiritual aspects of Western missionary life and work.
“What about your fathers and grandfathers before the missionary and the white man came,” Loewen continued to probe, “what was the axle of their way of life?” “War,” came the immediate response. Spokesmen within the group explained that their grandfathers had practised killing because that was the way to get spirit power. Spirit power had been, in effect, the integrating hub of their grandfathers’ way of life. Had their grandfathers been Christians, the teachers explained to Loewen, the Spirit of God would have been the center of their lives, “because He…is the most powerful of all spirits.”
“And now that all of you are Christians,” Loewen persisted, “is the Spirit of God the axle of your Christian way of life, too?”
“No,” came the response, “our axle now is…money…because that is what we have learned from the missionaries.” – Jonathan Bonk, Missions and Money
Mark Twain once wrote: “You have heard it said, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’, but I tell you, “Put all your eggs in one basket….and watch that basket!”.
The Rich Young Ruler had his eggs in a number of baskets, foremost his wealth and his religious observance.
Still he lacks peace; he wants to be sure of how to secure eternal life.
Our quest for wisdom leans not so much on finding the right answers as it does asking the right questions. Ask the right question and the answer often becomes plain.
“What will become of me?” is rarely a good question. It is too remote, beyond our ability to satisfy. More helpful is to ask, “What next step is most honourable, the one that will maintain my integrity?”
Jesus challenges him to put all his eggs in a different basket: “sell everything you have and give to the poor…then come follow me.”
The young man (who is Everyman) falsely believes Jesus is asking him to become destitute. Jesus is merely asking him to align his actions with his words, to be willing to exchange his material security for a more enduring source of purpose and contentment. A choice between something and nothing is no choice at all; a true choice is always between two somethings. Spiritual growth is as much about relinquishment as it is about attainment. Learning about the things we must grasp will do us no good if we don’t learn about the things of which we must let go.
Peter and Andrew, standing there as witnesses, have already demonstrated, by leaving their nets behind, that it can be done, that a life of learning to pray “give us THIS day our daily bread” is not just one viable option among many, but the only way to follow the way of Jesus. Here we see a call to discipleship which is sadly declined and our own hearts – as knowing readers of the Gospel – go out to the young man.
The Rich Young Ruler does what we all do at times: mistake the thing for its meaning, believing his material wealth had intrinsic value. When we give thanks for the many blessings in our lives, we should be careful to thank God not simply for the possessions themselves, but for what lies behind our blessings. For home and hearth, yes, we thank Thee, Lord. But more importantly, we thank you that safety, security and a place to call our own is something that is in harmony with how the universe was intended to be. Some, but certainly not all, enjoy that blessing already. We thank the divine for healthy bodies and minds, but even more that our Creator made us with memory, reason and skill, and the long experience of humanity has secured for us remarkable cumulative achievements in medicine and healthcare. We thank God for our family and friends, but also that we were made to live in community, where laughter and joy and heartache and sorrow are shared.