The Rich Young Man

The Rich Young Man sets us a problem that modern readers can easily miss. There is a tendency today to assume that wealth is evil in itself - an assumption not made by Jesus or the New Testament writers. It is believed that a fairer distribution of wealth would eliminate poverty - even though efforts to do this have shown poverty to be "endemic" and not just "systemic". The society of that time had no "welfare state" and the poor were very dependent on the response of others personally to their need. The giving of alms was seen as a very basic religious duty. And, while there were hypocrites, such as those Jesus referred to in Matthew 6.1ff, there were others who sincerely and devoutly made it their business to alleviate human need. If a sincere and earnest rich person had difficulty entering the Kingdom, what hope is there for any of us? That was the disciples' question.

Reader:Matthew 19.16-24.
PHILIP:That seems unfair, Thomas.
THOMAS:I agree, Philip. He was a good young man. Just looking at him, you could tell he had been well brought up.
PHILIP:I didn't see any sign of hypocrisy in him at all when he said he had obeyed all the commandments. I think he has always sincerely and genuinely tried to do the right thing.
THOMAS:That was my impression too, Philip, and in coming to Jesus he seemed to be a genuine seeker.
PHILIP:Not like the goody-goody Pharisees who come to trick and to find fault!
THOMAS:He had done his best and still wanted more.
PHILIP:He must have been in the crowds a few times. Has heard Jesus teaching about the Kingdom and eternal life.
THOMAS:Not just satisfied with his goodness - that seems commendable to me. "What else do I need to do?" he said.
PHILIP:And Jesus said, "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and follow me."
THOMAS:That seems an unfair demand.
PHILIP:After all, there's nothing evil about being rich.
THOMAS:Jesus wasn't even inferring that, was he?
PHILIP:I mean - a rich person has more opportunity to do good.
THOMAS:I'm sure this young man does his share of helping the poor!
PHILIP:I'm sure of it!
THOMAS:And if he does what Jesus just said, he will help the poor now, then never again!
PHILIP:And now Jesus has said it's very hard, almost impossible, for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.
THOMAS:I would have given a rich person a better-than-average chance.
PHILIP:Poor people are so caught up with worry, face so many temptations, find it so hard to rise above their circumstances.
THOMAS:Of course, Philip, that's not to say that being rich is being good, either!
PHILIP:I didn't mean that, Thomas. I thought that being free from those worries and temptations ought to be a help.
THOMAS:And it does depend on whether the rich person chooses to do good.
PHILIP and THOMAS:Who, then, can be saved?
Reader:Matthew 19.26-30.

From Between the Lines. Dialogues for Worship by Peter J. Blackburn published by Testimonium Fellowship 1992, (c) Peter J. Blackburn.
Permission is given for copying of this document for local use with this copyright notice intact. For any other proposed use the specific permission of Peter J. Blackburn must be sought.

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