Theme: Wealth and Poverty
This week’s lessons remind us what the Christian’s attitude and response toward possessions need to be, as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Mark 6:7-11
I received a letter from a couple who were going to the mission field for the first time. It listed their financial requirements: so much for support, so much for medical expenses, so much for insurance, pension, the cost of operating an automobile, travel to and from the field, overhead for the home office, and so on. I was not disturbed by the letter. I was actually quite sympathetic. I knew that the requests were reasonable. Still I could not help contrasting their letter with the Lord’s commands to His disciples when they set out on their first missionary journey. He told them to go without possessions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:7-11).
This juxtaposition of instructions highlights the uneasy alliance most Christians have with their possessions. We admire Saint Francis of Assisi who stripped himself of everything and went off singing into the forest. But we do not follow his example. On the contrary, we spend most of our lives making money; and if we are honest, we admit that for the most part we do not make money in order to have more with which to help others. We make it to spend on ourselves. We are disturbed by Christ’s saying: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
Part of the problem comes from what seem, on the surface at least, to be contradictory statements in Scripture. In the text first quoted, when Jesus sent His disciples off on their journey He told them, “Take nothing. . . ” But at the Last Supper He referred to that earlier incident, saying, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” And when they answered no, He continued, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:35, 36).
When Jesus was approached by the rich young ruler, asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother. . . ” The young man said that he had kept all those commandments since he was a boy. Jesus responded, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:17-21).
This was a statement that the young man’s wealth was keeping him from salvation. In order to be saved it was necessary for him to sell his possessions and give all he possessed to the poor. But even here we recognize that Jesus did not make this demand of Peter or James or John or countless others. He made it of a rich young man whose riches were in his case a barrier to salvation.
When we read of St Francis of Assisi’s approach to possessions, and admire him for what he did, what keeps us from wanting to do the same thing ourselves? Though not everyone is called to that kind of lifestyle, what does our aversion to imitating him reveal about our view of riches?
Why did Jesus tell the rich young ruler to sell everything he had, but not give the same instructions to the disciples?
Reflection: How does the secular culture view possessions? How do you see these attitudes demonstrated by your non-Christian co-workers, family members, or friends?