by David Henson
I am the rich young ruler.
And so are you.
In the context of our world, we are all rich young rulers. If you make a mere $34,000 a year, you are part of the elite economic class, the wealthiest of the wealthy, the top 1 percent of humanity’s 7 billion people.
In this light, there a few passages in the Scriptures more troubling than Jesus’ exchange with the rich young man in the gospels. As the world’s rich, few of Jesus’ words sting more than his words to the rich man.
We can believe that the meek will inherit the earth, that we should love our neighbors, that we should turn the other cheek, that we should pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. We can keep these commandments, much as the rich young ruler kept all the commandments.
But give away our wealth? Live in solidarity with the world’s poor and oppressed? There is no way to read the story of the rich young ruler without a sinking feeling in my spirit, because I know Jesus is talking to us.
Like the rich man in the story, we are the ones who have, who have amassed fortunes and possessions more than we can count. Possessions we love, protect, serve, and spend money to insure against loss, rot, theft and damage. In our consumeristic culture, we are not what we eat. We are what we buy. We are defined by our possessions, and we define our worth by what we can possess. Our closets full of clothes sewn with injustice define us as rich young rulers. Our pantries and refrigerators with food seeded with environmental degradation and human oppression reveal us as rich young rulers. Our multi-car garages filled with cars barely a year, two years old, proclaim who we really are.
We are the world’s rich young rulers, pushing around shopping carts and ruling the world with hegemonic purchasing power.
Like he tells the rich man in the story, Jesus speaks to we Christians today who so fastidiously try to live into our faith. Jesus tells us to leave our wealth, to give it up, to share it with the world and, in doing so, follow him into an eternal life.
And, to me, our true identity as the world’s wealthy is why we spiritualize this story. We want to blunt the edges of Jesus’ sharp rebuke of wealth so we can barely feel it prick our skin when, in fact, it should gouge us to the bone.