The Rich Young Man and Redistribution of Wealth

The Rich Young Man and Redistribution of Wealth

Matthew 19:16-26 Isn’t it interesting that Matthew puts this passage about the rich young man right after Jesus blesses the little children.  Of course, these two events may have taken place on different days or even in different years, but switching from the innocent sweetness of little children to someone who has all the resources and sophistication that wealth and education can bring, must have taken a great deal of effort.   I’m told that peace corps volunteers face this culture shock when they return from a third world country and re-enter a grocery store. The wealthy man’s question implies he is coming to grips with the fact that you can’t take your riches with you when you die, and so he is wisely asking Jesus, the teacher and prophet, how he can obtain the one thing he doesn’t yet have: eternal life.  He asks what “good” he needs to do to merit eternal life. When Jesus answers that there is only one who is good; namely, God, and then launches into a recitation of the commandments, the young man counters with what amounts to: “Whoa!  I am good!  I’ve kept all of these commandments.”  Jesus, instead of asking (as I would have): “Then why did you ask me ‘Which ones?’ when I said “keep the commandments?” Jesus must have looked at his clothing, his manner, the care he took of his skin, and then challenged him on the one thing he lacked in THIS life, detachment from his wealth. As the young man went away grieving (“no eternal life for me—yi!”), Jesus commented on the extreme difficulty of getting into that eternal realm with your bags full of money. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible makes the assumption that since the man was wealthy, he could NOT have kept the commandments Jesus quoted; that in that era and culture, he got wealthy by exploiting others, being greedy, and depriving others of what he had accumulated.  The NISB adds: “Contrary to elitist values that often despised the poor and blamed them for their poverty, wealth does not equate with virtue” (p. 1781).  “Wealth has blinded him,” NISB continues, “to unjust, hierarchical social relationships…To follow Jesus is to join a community that renounces domination based on birth and wealth, and where all are slaves (12:46-55; 20:24-28)…To live a life that deprives people of necessary resources, that maintains social inequities, makes it impossible to participate in God’s empire.  Repentance and restructured social and economic practices are necessary.”   Only God can effect that transformation. Wow!  Sounds like a call for the redistribution of wealth, doesn’t it?  Such a call would be fought with great vigor in the United States and labeled “Marxist” by many. ...

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A Different Format

A Different Format

I’m pretty sure I have permission to tell this story.  You know how some couples sign pre-nuptial agreements before they get married?  My wife and I don’t have one of those, since neither of us had any money or property when we got married and she graciously wanted to leave me all she possessed.  But now I think my wife of 37 years wants me to sign a pre-SERMON agreement before I volunteer to preach (she said as much at this table on August 11!).   But when she wrote an email to me not long ago with a story attached, I wrote back that there was a sermon idea in there somewhere, and she wrote something like: Whatever I can do to help.  Now that I have that in writing (always save your emails), here’s the story:  My wife had been listening to an audiobook for days and days and she was finally coming to the last disc.  Since she usually borrows audiobooks from the library, she began to look for the box that had all of the remaining, finished discs in it.  She searched the whole house and couldn’t find it.  I helped her.  Nothing.  She began to worry about library fines and paying the exorbitant price to replace a 10 or 11-disc set [or maybe these were MY worries].  I complained to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things, that he wasn’t answering my prayers. But then the next day when I was at work she sent me this email saying she no longer had to look for the box because she finally realized the book was an audiobook on her iPod and it had been downloaded from audible.com, and therefore a physical copy of it didn’t exist!  Because: it was in a different FORMAT!  [Remember the days when a book was a book?] In other words, she could have searched for it for days, called in professionals, the FBI, the NSA; they could have taken the house apart.  She NEVER would have found it.  She might as well have lain on the couch and searched by sliding her hand under the cushions and been comfortable.  She might as well have searched where the light was better.   She might as well have searched here in this sanctuary and prayed to St. Anthony or his equivalent in other denominations. Let’s think about formatting for a few minutes.  We have an understanding of formatting since the 1950s that no one before then could have had at the same level.  We have computers.  We have Blu-ray players and DVRs.  We have been unable to open files saved in a different version of Word or—God forbid—saved on a Mac with whatever...

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