Like many people I don't think of myself as rich. I'm almost glad I'm not rich, thankful even. There are many warnings in the Bible to the rich. They may have it now but they may be in trouble later. There are cautions in the Psalms against imitating the rich and then there is the story of the rich man and Lazarus in the gospels. So, when I turn to read the story Jesus told about the rich, young man, I am pretty sure who he was talking about and it was not me. I guess I see the young rich guy as a Wall Street investment banker making tons of money for himself and not caring about anyone else. He pulls up to Jesus in a Lexus SUV and turns down the thump thump of his bass just long enough to get his question answered. How do I score the investment you are talking about, Jesus, he asks. Jesus tells him to give away what he owns to the poor and you will have invested for eternity. The man wasn't expecting that so he got back in his car, turned up the stereo and went back to making money.
Today, Marilyn McEntyre in her book, What's in a Phrase, helped me see this story a little more clearly. She focuses on v. 21 in Mark 10, "and Jesus, looking at him, loved him." Even before answering his question he takes a second, longer look at this young man, she writes. He takes the young man and his question seriously because he sees both his immaturity and his spiritual hunger, she says. Then she writes,"since I haven't given up my possessions, and know few who have, I realize most of us don't have any stones to throw at this rich young man when he went away sorrowing because he could not give up his wealth." She claims she tithes to her church and gives her canned goods to the food bank, but states she will probably carry her laptop to the grave.
The point of the story, she points out, is not judgment but love. Jesus loves even those who are not yet wholehearted, pure and generous. He turns toward us with a compassionate gaze, listening to our imperfect prayers, to petitions that smack of self-righteousness, and self-interest, seeing us through our learning moments, our resistances, and our spiritual failures - is how she puts it.
Some people left everything to follow him immediately. Others went home to fields in need of plowing, and children in need of raising and families needing to be fed. They go home to ponder what Jesus said, what it means to live by grace and how righteousness is reckoned. McEntyre helps me see the rich man in a different light. Some probably did go home sorrowing or at least feeling like they wished they could be more like the disciples who could follow Jesus and not look back on what they were leaving behind. Like we might look at those who move into a house church situated in the midst of the city or among the poor of the third world. We wish we had that commitment or sense of purpose.
But McEntyre is a good and true guide, I think. She sees this story as a complement to the stories of the calling of the 12 disciples. It is more ordinary. Perhaps, she suggests, the rich young man did not leave without hope; perhaps Jesus look of love stayed with him a long while; perhaps he did not conclude right away that Jesus' way was not for him. "I imagine, McEntyre writes, he went home to restless nights, and days of wrestling with what the Lord requires of him." He had a lot to sort out, she says, and I imagine Jesus' love stayed with him and encouraged his growth process. Jesus look of love was what sustained him as he groped his way toward a new relationship with God. As it sustains us in our following Jesus.