(See Luke 18:18-25; Matthew 19:16-24; Mark 10:17-25 for the Gospel accounts of the Rich Young Ruler).
I decided to take a walk through a typical suburban neighborhood this evening, and looking at all the big houses with lights on inside made me wonder what those massive houses might look like to people in poverty stricken countries. My thoughts immediately centered on the story of the Rich Young Ruler as recorded in the verses I have mentioned above.
Most people in America who consider themselves christian and who happen to know the story of the Rich Young Ruler (RYR) often tell us that the story of the RYR is meant to challenge “the ‘really wealthy‘ people who are addicted to money and possessions.” Then we often hear these same professing christians tell us that that was the particular sin of the RYR and that sin is not a particular sin that they themselves struggle with. In fact, if you ask them, most of them can’t think of a person they know whom they would describe as loving money or possessions.
Yet as I continued to walk by these large 3 to 5 bedroom houses with several cars in each driveway, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that there is essentially no difference between the average suburban household owner and the Rich Young Ruler.
Let’s examine my premise…
If the gospel accounts of the RYR don’t give any real definition of what made the RYR “rich,” then we are left with the remainder of the account to determine WHY the gospel writers chose to refer to the RYR the way they did. We know that the RYR was a “ruler” of some sort. What kind of ruler is also a little vague. We’ll just leave that one alone for now. We know that the RYR was “young,” but again, we are left with no certainty about his exact age. Finally, he is described as “rich.” This will be the crux of this post, i.e, what does America have in common with the Rich, Young Ruler?
America portrays itself as largely a “christian” nation, with the obvious pockets of other religious and non-religious citizens making up the the rest of the american culture. But for the sake of simplicity here, and based on our collective experiences of traveling all across America for over a decade now, we’ll just say it’s a mostly “christian” nation. With that being said, we’ll move ahead with our comparison.
America, as we now know it, is young by comparison to the much older nations and states of the world. I’m not sure how much more is needed to support this point, so we’ll continue with the premise.
America is also a ruler. This we can see by the way other countries tend to follow its lead or its culture, for better or worse. For those countries who choose not to follow our lead, they earn the label of being our enemy. (I don’t want to devote much time to this point either, because I believe most people can agree that America is one of the “super-powers” of the world today).
Lastly, America is rich. While some would want to debate this point, (and we definitely would like to hear from you), it seems pretty self evident from our perspective, and from the perspective of most of the world.
We are purposely speaking in generalities here because we are deeply aware of the poverty that we see in most of largest American cities. However, even the poorest of the poor in America would be scared to live in the poorest slums/ghettos of the developing world. For instance, a homeless person living on Skid Row in Los Angeles would begin to appreciate all of the soup kitchens and health care facilities that they may now take for granted. (We have lived on Skid Row in Los Angeles and had this conversation with some of the people living there, so this is not merely a theoretical point to us).
Now that we have covered some of the grey areas of wealth vs. poverty in the U.S., we can proceed with the overarching theme of this post, which deals with the wealth that America holds so dear.
Another parallel that America has with the RYR is her desire to be “saved.” In this context, being “saved” refers to securing one’s eternal destiny in heaven. This is a very simplistic representation, but we feel it describes fairly well the religious spirit that is seen in the RYR and in the mind of the average “christian” who professes their love for God and their desire to be “saved” and to “save” other souls.
The RYR asked Jesus how to be ‘saved’ and ultimately Jesus told him to sell all of his possessions and give to the poor then to come and follow Him. This is EXACTLY where the RYR and American “christianity” can be seen to be in the same mind set.
We notice that the RYR, once he heard this, left Jesus and His followers, simply because he was unwilling to let go of his money and many possessions.
We would say that America has treated Jesus’ teachings the exact same way.
In the same suburban neighborhood I had mentioned at the start of this post, in addition to all of the massive houses and massive cars I saw, there were also many massive church buildings. These “churches” are pretty busy on sunday morning, when all of the wealthy suburbanites congregate in them to sing their songs and listen to their sermons. But if ever they are confronted with the story of the RYR, they are quickly told “not to worry”…”they are fine”, the pastor says, “Jesus is only speaking to the Rich Young Ruler because that was his particular sin; it doesn’t apply to our members of this congregation…”
If you’re clever, you may be wondering: “How can those churches NOT see that they are just like the RYR? What about all of their many possessions and their love of money?” Or better yet: “How come those people profess that they love Jesus, yet they live their lives focused on their material pleasures and desires, and yet they claim that they are saved?”
Another may ask: “Why are there so many rich “christians” (an oxymoron) who live it up in luxury at the expense of the world around them?”
Good questions…any answers?