I have been chewing on a passage of scripture that usually gets beaten into tender ears when the church needs to cover some financial shortfall. As I soon as I mention it, some of you will get jitters of PTSD and will be unable to continue reading. I understand, so consider this your trigger-alert warning. But I also assure you that I do not come to touch your “filthy lucre” (thanks, King James Version!).
The Rich Young Ruler (heretofore, RYR; Luke 18). Yeah, that guy. He asks Jesus what part he has to do to receive the channeled approval and blessings of God. Jesus simply says: do the Law of God perfectly, and you’re good.
The RYR essentially tells Jesus that he’s been meeting God’s perfect standards for as long as he can remember—like, since childhood. I am not sure how you measure pride, but that is ridiculous, off-the-charts moral arrogance. If the Scriptures had a laugh track (Idea: The Laugh Track Study Bible? ft. Sarai), then howls of pealing laughter could reasonably be inserted after his self-assessment.
Jesus overhears it, shows none of the amusement I have, and says, “Oh, there is something else you lack.” What Jesus says next, is quantifiably way, way, way less than the Law of God. It’s certainly achievable by any external metric: “Sell your stuff, give that cash to the poor (p.s. I’ll give it all back to you later, anyway), and come learn from me.”
The RYR walks away very sad. He is powerless over his own heart, and he knows it. The Laugh Track Study Bible would have scant, nervous laughter here, exposing a very uncertain audience.
In the worst of sermons, the RYR is a (sad, so sad) cautionary tale of mammon’s idolatrous grip on the human heart, and the reader is left to be very sad about the RYR’s sadness. This account seems likely as a Gospel dead-end. A story with an unhappy ending. Jesus didn’t work here. Oh well, let’s go find the Demoniac of Gerasene.
Except. A thoughtful reading yields something else.
What do you call it when a person moves from Position A (Mega Pride/Smugness) to Position B (Sadness)? Some of you might call it change. Some of you might call it transformationally fluid. Some of you might call it progression. Or regression. Some of you might call it neutral movement on a comparative spectrum of graded hierarchies. I might call it a spark of gracious activity.
I, too, have bouts of sadness. Some of us call it the desert, the wilderness. Many things can survive in the harsh realities of a desert. Mega pride can’t live there, though.
A prayed couplet arising from sadness:
O Father help me live here in the sadness,
And do not grant me escape unless I leave with You.