Many over the years have debated what it means when Jesus turns away the rich young ruler, who refuses to sell his possessions and follow the Lord with all His mind, body and soul. Christ tells this young ruler that it is harder for a rich man to get into heaven than to pass through the eye of a needle. The very fact that this story shows up in three out of the four gospel texts points to its significance (Matt. 19:24, Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25).
But what does it mean? Remarkably, as my pastor has pointed out before, the text says a little earlier that all things are possible for those who believe (Mark 9:23). Meaning, presumably that having faith in God is the key to eternal life. And we must clearly obey Jesus if He commands us to forsake our earthly possessions. The Scripture clearly says that it is hard for a rich man to get into heaven.
Why? Riches have a way of grabbing hold of people’s hearts. Self-centredness, greed, envy can grow in the fertile ground of love for money. That is why Hebrews 13:5 admonishes the believer to steer clear of this idol. Any god that grows in a man (or woman’s) heart can lead down the wrong path. That is why we are to be cheerful in our money-giving, and to cultivate a generous heart (2 Cor. 9:6-8; 1 Tim. 6:17-19). This even explains how in 2 Corinthians 8 though people were poor, their big hearts urged them to not be stingy, for the sake of the common good. Treating others hospitably could even signify the believer has entertained angels (Heb. 13:2).
In a post earlier this year, I pointed to the fact that I studied International Development. There are so many needs in the world. So much hunger in Africa and even right here in Canada. Food insecurity, we call it. But what model works when it comes to Christians, or others, serving the vulnerable across the world?
With globalization, people have felt a greater degree of connection to the plight of those living on the other side of the world, compared to a couple hundred years ago. Think of how the images of the 1980’s famine in Ethiopia permeated the North American culture. Granted, the first world has caused many of these problems. Colonization, which can be linked to Modernization efforts, “civilizing” if you will, has been utterly destructive. Western legal systems, property rights and ways of doing business have been forced on cultures that were doing fine, thank you very much, before we got involved. When it came to trade, economically more powerful countries have taken advantage of those at the bottom of the totem pole.
World Systems Theory and Marxists ideologies have sought to explain why certain countries have a trouble raising their GDP. Or maybe measuring GDP isn’t the answer? I have been a part of these discussions… Post-modernists, I can say right off the bat, I do not agree with since they do not acknowledge truth. This is in direct contradiction, however, with what the Bible teaches (Jn. 17:17). World Systems, while recognizing power imbalances, and Marxism, seeking the utter redistribution of economic gain, turn away from the notion of the human heart, which is “deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9).
Those who are involved with International Development should turn to their Bibles. The prescription for helping people out of dire poverty is by humbly leading these folks to Jesus, who provides and cares for us. The solution involves walking alongside the poor, understanding their hurts, their pains. For whoever helped “the least of these” is close to the heart of the Father (Matt. 25:31-46). Let us look forward, “hastening the day of His coming (2 Pet. 3:12).