The Impoverishing Power of Financial Prosperity

The story of the rich young man in Mark 10 has a chilling message: earthly prosperity can make people spiritually destitute.

“Teacher! Teacher, please wait!”

Jesus and his disciples were just leaving town. They turned and saw a young man hurrying toward them. His clothes, carriage, elocution all communicated “aristocrat.” But his face was distressed and there was urgency in his voice. The disciples assumed someone else needed healing or deliverance.

The man dropped to his knees in front of Jesus and blurted out, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Unusual. Not many wealthy people were so earnest about such things. The disciples looked back at Jesus. Still trying to figure this out themselves, they were eager for his answer.

He looked intensely at the young man for a moment. Then he said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Not the expected reply. The disciples were getting used to this but the man just looked confused.

Jesus let his comment sink in for a bit. Then he said, “You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” At the time the disciples didn’t think much of it, but later they discussed the commandments that Jesus didn’t mention, like “You shall have no other gods before me.” Another lesson: even what Jesus doesn’t say means something.

The man replied, “Teacher,” leaving off “good” this time, “all these things I have kept from my youth.” Remarkable. Most people desperate to talk to Jesus were either sick, demonized, or sinners looking for forgiveness. Why was a pious young man so troubled about his soul?

Jesus paused again and his face began to radiate affection. The disciples anticipated a word of commendation or comfort. But what came out of Jesus’s mouth was, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

All eyes moved back to the young man. They watched blood and hope drain out of his face. His head drooped and he stared at the ground. He hoped he wouldn’t get sick in front of everyone.

The man was devastated. He had known something was wrong but he hadn’t been able to put his finger on it. Most folks who knew him thought he was a good boy and told him that his wealth was God’s blessing. But he hadn’t been able to shake this nagging sense of guilt, even with all the rituals. He had hoped Jesus would give him the answer. But he wasn’t prepared for this answer. However, he now knew why his soul was troubled. All it took was a clear choice between two treasures: God or wealth. There, on his knees in the dirt before Jesus, he realized which treasure he loved more. And it wasn’t God.

He slowly got up and without making eye contact again walked away burdened.

Jesus watched him. Quiet murmuring began. Then he said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” The hush was tense. Then Jesus looked at them. His eyes were pained and he said, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples gave each other unsettled glances. Each of them was suddenly very aware of idolatrous cravings in his own heart. One of them said, almost under his breath, “Then who can be saved?” It did not escape Jesus’s ear. With unexpected joy he said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” And he set off down the road.

According to Jesus, earthly prosperity is extraordinarily dangerous. It makes it humanly impossible to enter God’s kingdom. It’s fool’s gold. But its power is so blinding that when Jesus held out real treasure to this man in exchange for the counterfeit, he wouldn’t trade. And what he did was choose poverty over incalculable eternal wealth.

Idols are not to be messed with. They are to be destroyed. If financial security is an idol for us, Jesus will call us, in some way, to abandon it.

If you are in a place where God is asking you to trust and treasure him over money, remember that it is a great mercy. It might feel like a “fiery trial” (1 Peter 4:12) because you’re being asked to die to what you once believed would bring you life. Don’t be surprised “as though something strange were happening to you.” What’s really happening is that Jesus is showing you the path of life (Psalm 16:11). He’s offering you a priceless gift.

God is making a camel pass through a needle’s eye. And all things are possible with him.

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