Tom Stapleford
Associate Professor and Department Chair, Program of Liberal Studies

Living comfortably in a wealthy society, I’ve always found this a challenging gospel. It’s tempting to skip the first half and jump to Jesus’s lines, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” However, that strikes me as a cop-out, a way to avoid an uncomfortable encounter with a hard truth. Wealth is woven throughout this chapter from the young man who “had many possessions” to Peter reminding Christ that the disciples “have given up everything” and followed him. With what does Jesus wish us to grapple?

I think it is helpful to notice what Christ does not say. He doesn’t say, “People who are wealthy don’t care about others, and that keeps them from the kingdom.” Wealth isn’t the signal of a problem; wealth is the problem. The young man has kept all the commandments from his youth, and “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” But Jesus wanted more. What is it about wealth that can block us from true discipleship?

Plato said that we desire not only to possess the good but to possess it now and in the future. The rich young man has “many possessions.” He can’t use them all at once, but to give them up would be to give up the possibility of their future use and to relinquish the promise of possible future happiness. A more accessible example? I have more books sitting on my shelves right now than I could possibly read in the next year or even the next ten years. Every time I consider donating one, I think, “But I might need that in the future!” Wealth is like that. It tempts us with an illusion of future security, but that illusion is precisely what Jesus is asking us to surrender.

Lord, help me to put my trust in you, to know that you are the only sure and eternal source of joy and love both now and in the future.