Back in the 1980’s American culture began a dramatic change that is becoming manifested fully today. The economy was bouncing back from a terrible recession, computers were becoming the rage, cellphones were coming on the scene, and movies like “Wall Street” and many television shows depicted an America, consumed with consumption. Do you remember the phrase, “champagne wishes and caviar dreams?” It was the catchphrase for the popular television show, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” The star Robin Leach revealed the lavish and grandiose homes, cars, and abundance of our superstars. Today, we have TV shows like “MTV Cribs” and “Housewives of Beverly Hills” that also glorify wealth and success, and for some, they have become the benchmark by which, some people measure their own life’s purpose.
Do not get me wrong, I do not judge people who have worked very hard all their lives, and who have done well for themselves. Also, I do not believe “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” “MTV Cribs” and other shows are the cause of American over-consumerism. We are possessed by a desire to “keep up with the Jones’s,” which is a symptom of a spiritual ailment. Our obsession with things has become an infection that has caused a serious infirmity in the soul. We all seek life abundant, but we try and find that life in “things and stuff “and somehow God has taken a back seat. We need Jesus’ healing from this ailment.
Healing of Rich young man
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” These are the words of a man who came to Jesusseeking healing, and did not realize it. Jesus said to the man when he came to him, “Get up” or in the Greek (ΰπαγε)—Jesus uses the same words he used with so many others as he completed the process of healing them from their diseases.”(2) Today’s story in Mark’s gospel is a healing of a man possessed. Like the demoniac Jesus healed, this man too is in slavery to, and bound up by a disease of the soul. Theologian Stacy Simpson asserts, “The rich man (was) possessed by his possessions. Jesus (was) offering to free him of his possessions to cure him of his excess.” (1)
“What must I do to attain eternal life,” he asked. Jesus said to him, “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; Honor your father and mother.’” The term defraud Jesus used was actually the word covet in the original commandments. Covet and defraud stem from the same intentions of the heart; desiring what others have and then doing what is necessary to attain our desires. We are obsessed with others’ wealth, and in American culture today, we are witnessing people trying to win at all costs in business, politics, and in every facet of life.
So Jesus was aware of the man’s disease, and yet he loved him and offered him the cure for his obsession with things, or his “possession by his possessions.” Jesus remedy was to, “Give it away.” That is a hard thing for us to hear, but I have to wonder was Jesus literally telling him to sell all he had? Is Jesus telling us to do the same thing? Maybe he (and us) are being told to clear the spiritual decks of those things or possessions that literally get in the way of having a committed relationship to Jesus Christ. Jesus is telling us to get our priorities right, which is not an easy teaching for we 21stcentury Americans. Like the rich man who rejected Jesus’ healing, we also grieve at the thought of re-aligning what is most important in this life, and in the next. Jesus is offering the rich man a cure for what some people call “affluenza.”
“Affluenza” is a word that describes “extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success, and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships.” (4) Our stuff gets in the way of our relationship with Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Theologian Stacey Elizabeth Simpson explains, “(Our possessions) keep us from realizing our need for God because we use it as a buffer against vulnerability. We use it to fill the emptiness in our souls. We use it to feel less susceptible to the vagaries of life. It keeps us from seeing how needy we are.” (1) Jesus’ cure for our “affluenza” is the realignment of our priorities, by sharing our abundant gifts, to support God’s mission of grace, love, and peace.
The Kingdom of Heaven: The Eye of a Needle
Jesus asked his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” He told them, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” In other words, it is easier to squeeze a 1000 lb camel through a tiny hole, than for us to swallow the pill that will cure the ailment that attempts to fill the spiritual holes in our hearts with stuff.
We cannot cure ourselves, we need Jesus to heal us. Jesus knows our hearts,and he challenges us to get our priorities right, deciding which things are most important in this life and in the next. Jesus confronts us with the reality that a life of abundant grace is not based on consumption and wealth, but on following Jesus and his mission of love and mercy for all. We all suffer from a little “affluenza,” and Jesus alone has the cure.
Jesus’ Prognosis and Prescription
(1) Here is a symptom. Many of us live off of 150% of what we make and thus, our debt and obsessive spending handcuffs and binds us to the anchors of consumerism. The prescription? We must live simply and put Jesus Christ back at the center of our lives, by filling the spiritual holes in our souls, with Jesus Christ’s grace and peace. We need to respond to God’s grace in our lives, by giving a portion for God’s mission in the world (2) Here is another symptom. Many of us live life at Mach 3 and we have little time left to share our time and talent in service to God’s Kingdom. The prescription? Live simply and put Jesus Christ back at the center of your life, by creating space to share God’s abundance in your life with others, by offering God your spiritual gifts. (3) Here is a another symptom. Many of us never take time to pray and communicate with God, and so we expect to have a relationship with him. The prescription? We must live simply and put Jesus Christ back at the center of your life, by deepening your love and commitment to him, by the daily practice of holy conversation, listening, and discerning. (4) Here is another symptom. We are have trouble giving thanks to God. and fail to live a life of gratitude to God. The prescription? Begin each day or end each night naming before God those things, for which you are grateful; relationships, shelter, food, health, and security. Grateful living shifts us from seeking to fill the spiritual holes with stuff, to accepting God’s abundant grace filled by our grateful heart.
“So, who can be healed,” we too might ask. When God (who can alone) transforms our hearts, heal us from the life-threatening ailment of our consumer-laden habits, we will come to know the grace of life abundant in Christ. When God alone aids us to re-prioritize God’s mission of love, grace, and peace in our lives and in the lives of others, we will come to know life abundant in Christ. Then and only then can we be cured, free, and released from those terrible chains we all carry. Then, we will no longer seek to attain the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” but we will live into the new reality of the Kingdom of God, the “Lifestyles of the Simple, Faithful, and Grateful,” the “Lifestyle of the followers of the way of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
(1) Simpson, Stacey Elizabeth. “Who Can Be Saved.” The Christian Century, vol. 117, no. 26, Sept. 2000, p. 951.
(2) Rossing, Barbara R. “Healing Affluenza: A Sermon on Mark 10:17-27.” Currents in Theology and Mission, vol. 33, no. 4, Aug. 2006, pp. 300–303.
(3) Thomas, Frank A. “Can Rich People Be Saved? (Mark 10:23-27).” Ex Auditu, vol. 22, 2006, pp. 217–221