There he was–like so many people in the book of Mark, coming to kneel at the feet of Jesus and ask for healing. Make no mistake about it. This is a healing story (read here). The rich young man had done everything he was supposed to do, yet something was off. He wasn’t sleeping well. He felt anxious all the time. And how could that be happening when he was so wildly successful? He was in need of a book called When all You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, but it hadn’t been written yet.
“What can I do to inherit eternal life?” he asks Jesus. “Follow commandments.” says Jesus. Duh. But the young man had been there and done that. The Bible tells us that Jesus looked at him and loved him.
Rejecting the Cure
In all the healing stories, in all four of the Gospels, the rich young man is the only one who seeks the healing of Jesus Christ, but rejects the cure. The only one.
We ought to relate to that. We are masters of knowing what is good for us and doing exactly the opposite. And we are the rich young man.
The United States now has 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space. (The Self Storage Association notes that, with more than seven square feet for every man, woman and child, it’s now “physically possible that every American could stand—all at the same time—under the total canopy of self-storage roofing.”) One out of every 10 households in the country rents a unit.
Americans make of 5% of the world’s population, but consume 24 percent of its energy.
There are more shopping malls than high schools in the United States.
If you have one college-educated adult in your household, then you are richer than 95% of the world and 99% richer than all the people who have ever lived.
Make no mistake. We are the rich man.
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him,” Mark tells us. Matthew and Luke leave this out. But Mark, always spare with words, takes the time to note that Jesus loves this man. He offers him healing. “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (In Mark, the word “go” is used almost exclusively in the healing stories.)
What is the healing that this man needs? What he lacks is that he does not lack. This man is possessed — but only by his possessions. Jesus is offering to free him of his possessions, to cure him of his excess. But the rich man turns his back.
Are you possessed by possessions? Are you refusing to be healed by Jesus? If you refuse to to sell everything you own, are you doomed for life? Well…one could make a case for that. When our possessions own us instead of the other way around, our lives are deeply diminished and far less free than they could be.
But while excess wealth and possessions can really screw us up in this life, can it cause us to miss out on eternal life?
What can I do to inherit eternal life?
Nothing. For mortals it is impossible. But not for God. To say we must give up all our wealth in order to be saved puts the burden on us to save ourselves. Neither wealth nor divestment of wealth saves us. God does.
Yes, there is still the problem of having too much stuff. It keeps us from realizing our need for God because we use it as a buffer against vulnerability. We use it to fill the emptiness in our souls. We use it to feel less susceptible to the uncertainties of life. It keeps us from seeing how needy we are.
What must we do to inherit eternal life? We must let go of all that we have and all that we do that gets in the way of seeing that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Even then, letting go of it all is beyond our capacity. The hardest news Jesus has is the best news we could get — salvation is impossible for us to achieve, but with God, all things are possible.