Lord, God, Savior, be the master of my heart today. Over all anxiety, let your peace prevail. Over all idolatry, let your lordship rule. In every self-righteous thought, let your holiness convict. May my life be filled with mercy that overflows onto everyone I meet. May my life be filled with hope that inspires everyone I meet. May my life be filled with love that splashes on everyone I meet. May my pockets be open and my heart generous, that I would be eager to share the wealth you have entrusted to me with all in need. May the great joy of Christ flow from me to others, and back to you, oh God, as I worship.
This morning is “part two” of the story of the rich young man and one of Jesus’s (many) teachings on money. So read Mark 10:17-22 as a reminder (that was yesterday’s passage), then read Mark 10:23-31, which is today’s text for reflection:
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is [some manuscripts add for those who trust in riches] to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:23-31 ESV)
I really appreciated a comment from Rachelle left on yesterday’s post. She wrote, “I think for a lot of people, money is a bigger stumbling block than we realize.” I agree—and Jesus apparently did too. Of the thirty-eight parables recorded in scripture, sixteen dealt with how to handle money and possessions. One tenth of the verses in the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) deal directly with the subject of money. In the Bible, there are five hundred verses on prayer, less than five hundred verses on faith, but more than two thousand verses on money and possessions. (Click for source.)
The God who knows the human heart has a lot to say about money. And when God has that much to say, we really must listen—and respond!
I don’t know how much weight we’re supposed to give footnotes in our Bibles. I know that what we have in the English scriptures is a translation, so there is room for several different ways of translating the ancient texts without compromising their integrity. I also know that scripture as we have it now was, at one time, a number of different manuscripts passed down through the generations on papyrus and tablets, and some of them seemed to add clarifications, so we have footnotes that say, “Some manuscripts add…”
In the case of this text, it seems to me that the heart of the passage lies in a footnote. “Some manuscripts add for those who trust in riches.” How difficult it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!
It is so easy to trust in riches—whether we have them or not. I have believed the lie that enough money would be the answer to whatever problems I had. When I was in my twenties living in New York City, trying to make it as an actor, I was broke. I was beyond broke, in fact. Every day, my biggest struggles seemed to be how I was going to pay my bills! And when money is an issue, either because you have too much of it or too little, thoughts of money can dominate your heart, mind, and soul—the very things that are supposed to be devoted to God. (Matt 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27)
But it was in that very season, when I was choosing which bills to pay on time and which bills to defer to the next paycheck, that a godly woman with nothing to gain from how I handled my money, challenged me to commit all of my finances to God. She walked with me through scripture, showing me many of the passages that directly relate to our relationship with money. And I made a decision, which I have had to re-commit to over and over through the years, that I would live in what A.W. Tozer calls in The Pursuit of God, “the blessedness of possessing nothing.” And years later, when I began to earn a good living and had money to spare, this teaching continued to color how I handled my finances, from tithing to giving offerings and gifts, trying to live as though everything I have belongs to God. It is not a lesson you learn once and then live perfectly forever. It is something that requires regular heart-checks.
As Rachelle said, money is a stumbling block. And as Jesus said, using that wonderful metaphor, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Money, both “enough” and “not enough,” points to the very core of where our hearts are. Our fear, pride, sense of security, sense of accomplishment, and priorities can very often be traced to money. Money challenges our allegiance to God, and when we trust in money rather than in God, which most of us are tempted to do, the true god of our lives is exposed.
But money can also be a blessing. I have been the recipient of many acts of generosity, and it has fostered in me a love for being generous. In fact, I think one of the best ways to combat an unrighteous love of money is give it away, whether in the form of actual monetary gifts/donations or in the form of sharing your belongings, house, food, table, etc. And when the disciples reacted to what Jesus said, he said something that has become, for many, a mantra for all of life: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” If we make God the center of our lives, money becomes a means to living a godly life, whether we struggle to make ends meet or our wealth spills over onto everyone we meet in acts of generosity and open-handedness.
We are called to be generous, and generosity does not have to depend on how much money we have. A poor person can be incredibly generous, giving what she has, be it a small donation that represents a large percentage of her bank account (think of the widow, who gave her last two pennies to God) or be it generosity of prayer, encouragement, and love. Yes, I’m convinced that the best way to fight an unrighteous love of money is to give it away! Something about giving as much as you can—and even beyond what you think you can give—drives a stake through the heart of the idolatry of money, anchoring our faith and our hope in its rightful place: God alone. To say we can’t afford to give is never true. We can’t afford not to give. Our souls can’t afford it.
But as we keep reading, we see a warning for all of us who are at risk of becoming proud of even our godly relationship with money: pride. Peter, responding to Jesus, declares, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” I don’t know what his tone or intention was, but it seems to me that Peter was seeking what many of us seek—the assurance that we’re doing the right thing, and that God is pleased with us. But Jesus takes it a leap forward, declaring that we can’t out-give God. “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” We must never be proud of our “generosity” toward God, because no matter how much we give, he will always give more.
Herein lies the root of a horrible doctrine that has permeated many streams of Christianity, commonly known as the “prosperity gospel.” People take this passage to mean that the more we give our tangible wealth to God (which is usually done by giving it to people who are deemed “men and women of God,” popular teachers or authors or preachers, or to the churches and ministries they lead), the more tangible wealth God gives us. But a holistic reading of scripture should correct that notion. We know that the disciples, the very men Jesus was talking to, did not amass great wealth in their service to Christ. All of them lived as itinerant evangelists and teachers and suffered tremendous persecution, and in fact, almost all of them died violent deaths because of the gospel. Yet, along with the persecutions, they received hospitality and generosity along the way. People opened their homes to them, giving them places to stay along their journeys. The relationships of those men and women whose lives were devoted to serving God were like family (brothers and sisters and mothers). The whole earth is God’s, and we get to enjoy it (lands.) When we cease to look at “our” possessions and wealth as “ours,” and begin to rather see it all as belonging to God, for us to use and steward, we are free from the love of money and from the entrapment of wealth. And we are free to enjoy the fullness of the earth as ours to use. God’s to own, ours to enjoy in faithful stewardship. We are rich, even if our bank accounts are running on fumes. If only we could see that!
Jesus closed this teaching by saying, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” I think of those who amass great wealth in the name of God, evangelists and preachers with selfish motives, and I shudder. When I was in Africa, where this teaching is spreading like wildfire, offering false hope to millions of people in poverty, I witnessed first-hand the evil of this teaching, when I watched a pastor collecting money from his impoverished congregation so that he could live in a large house in a gated community. He taught his congregation that giving their money to him to support his relatively lavish lifestyle was actually a gift to God. It was evil. And he believed that wealth he amassed and the house and lifestyle he enjoyed ere signs of God’s blessing in his life—even though they came to him at great cost to those in his pastoral care, who were giving out of tremendous poverty. I am not his judge, but I do think of him when I read this passage.
The really, truly sad part is that all of the folks in this scenario were trusting in money for their hope: those giving out of their poverty trusted that their gifts would earn them present riches and eternal life, and he who received their gifts trusted in the same thing! Both rich and poor, in this case, missed the most important truth about money: it cannot save you.
Money is a dangerous thing, to be sure. How quickly money can turn our hearts away from trusting in God. But, “all things are possible with God.” Even being faithful with our money.
Here are some questions to reflect on in the days to come. These are questions I am asking myself. How much does money matter to me? Does having it make me feel secure? Does not having it make me fearful? Am I generous with what I have, whether it’s a little or a lot? Have I, with Paul, learned, in whatever situation I am, to be content? (Philippians 4:11 ESV) This is a start in the fight against letting money be a stumbling block in our faith. With God, all things are possible. The key is to be with God. In light of the seriousness with which Jesus takes our posture toward money, let’s take some time to pray that God would do whatever it takes to free us from an unrighteous relationship with money.