Power, possessions and pride
Mark 10: 17-22
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18 Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.”’ 20 He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
When checking on the meaning and roots of the word ‘politician’, although I knew it to be semantically linked with governance and lawmaking, I came across some more cynical definitions: a person who acts in a manipulative way…; [someone] who is more concerned about winning favour or retaining power… Not our politicians, surely!
The story of the rich young ruler (in Matthew he’s young and in Luke he’s a lawyer or ruler) speaks powerfully into our contemporary culture of money-making, materialism and celebrity. The rich young ruler keeps his ear close to the ground: he knows what’s going on and hurries to meet Jesus just as he’s leaving town; he has a direct question of great personal importance prepared, but his reaction to Jesus’ words demonstrates that he isn’t yet ready to risk his life and future to the one he calls ‘good’. Rather he is deeply shocked, and the gospel relates that “he went away grieving” (verse 22).
Politicians have a reputation for being glib and superficial. Jesus seems to sense that the man’s formality and willingness only to deal in the outward commandments, indicate the crux of his problem. Jesus cuts through the dialogue and exposes the man’s shallowness and inner conflict. But he deals with him in a way that politicians rarely do - with discernment, compassion and consideration. We read that “Jesus …loved him” (verse 21). Still, the pull of his possessions is too great.
This is God’s wisdom:
“…he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. (see Luke 1: 51-53).
Wise and loving God,
We set our hearts on the things that sparkle and gleam,
Not recognising that they will only be full
When we love you.
Give us the wisdom to set aside those things that fail to satisfy
And to follow your down-side up and narrow path.