40 Days with Jesus – November 11th – Luke 18:18-30
In the classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, set in Tsarist Russia in 1905, the lead character is a poor milkman named Tevye. He is a religious man, and the musical is “narrated” through his casual conversations with God, many of which are quite humorous. At one point he laments that being poor “is no great curse… but it’s no great blessing, either.” In my favorite scene, Tevye imagines what it would be like if he were a wealthy man… he’d have a huge house in the middle of the town with separate staircases for going up and going down… and another staircase going nowhere, “just for show”. He’d have all kinds of expensive (and some useless) things for the sole purpose of showing his neighbors how wealthy he is.
I’ve never considered myself a wealthy man… at least by the world’s standards. True, I have a job I love and I own my own home… or, at least, I will… some day… when the mortgage is paid off. I own a car I can almost afford to put gas in. I have food on my table, and a full pantry. I even have fairly fast internet service. But wealthy? Not really. Or am I?
This past week my definition of “wealthy” shifted dramatically, because I witnessed a new level of “poor”. I’m writing down these thoughts while flying home from ten days in South Africa, where I served on a mission team from Chets Creek Church working in a desperately poor black township called Mzamom’hle (no, I can’t pronounce it correctly… we’ll call it “M-Town”.)
The township, home to almost 40,000 people, consists largely of small shacks constructed of whatever odd assortment of materials could be found. Most don’t have running water or electricity. Unemployment is the norm, and alcohol and drug abuse is rampant. Many households are run by orphans whose parents died of AIDS. Hundreds of small children wander the streets hungry. Hopelessness is a dark cloud that hangs over the people there. And yet, in spite of these circumstances, there are places in the township where the darkness has been penetrated by the Light. A small but growing group of Christ followers thrives in M-Town. These are people who have called out to God to help and guide and comfort them through trials most of us can’t begin to imagine. They are strong in their faith, bold in their witness, and encouraging to those around them (and to me!).
In the context of Mzamom’hle, I’m embarrassingly wealthy. In fact, most of us are. Just like in Tevye’s dream, it’s easy to put too much emphasis on acquiring wealth.
In today’s passage in Luke 18:18-30, a rich ruler asks Jesus what he must do to receive eternal life in heaven. When Jesus reminds him of the commandments (don’t commit adultery, don’t murder or steal or lie, honor your parents, etc.), the man says, “no problem… I’ve followed those rules all my life.” But when Jesus tells him he must sell all he has and give it to the poor, the man has to stop and think about it. He ends up walking away sad because, while he wants to follow Jesus, he just can’t if it means giving up his “stuff”.
My experience in South Africa is forcing me to examine my priorities with a fresh perspective, and it will take some time to process all that I witnessed. I don’t think God’s necessarily asking me to go sell everything I have and give it away… but He is reminding me that I should put my relationship with Him above everything else. In spite of my failings, God has chosen to bless me in many ways that are more important than “stuff”… including a wonderful wife and family, and friends and experiences that make my life richer.
I hope that as we approach this season of Thanksgiving, you’ll join me in examining your priorities, and adjusting them as needed to make sure that God is first. Then you’ll truly be a wealthy man (or woman).
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