Theology on Thursday: The iPad and the Rich Young Ruler

Posted: January 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

I thought I would give Karl Barth a break this week and turn to a more ethical/theological question, but first, let’s look at this passage from the tenth chapter of the Gospel According to Mark:

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

    18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”

    20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

    21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

    23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

    24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is  to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

    26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

    27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With human beings this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

    28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

    29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

I didn’t pay much attention to this passage as a young Christian because I certainly didn’t consider myself rich but then one of my seminary profs, Randy Harris, posed the question, “If you see things from God’s perspective, which includes neighborhoods like Haiti, then ask yourself, ‘are you rich?’ and if so, what do you do with this passage?”

Ouch.

Now, it is true that Jesus did not tell everyone he met to give up all their possessions and there are examples of fairly wealthy Christians in the New Testament who are not rebuked.  So, many scholars speculate that the rich young ruler had made his riches an idol and that Jesus saw this and went right to the heart of the issue.  Fair enough, but given that most of us are rich by world standards and we live in a thoroughly consumerist culture then we have to ask ourselves how truly different we are from this guy. 

But then are we to become minimalists? Neo-Amish? If not, then where is the line we cross from being faithful followers of Jesus to demoting Christ to second place in our hearts behind “stuff”?

This question became incarnate when my best friend from seminary (where are you John Romanski?) wrestled with buying a new television.  John was doing campus ministry and he often had young guys over to play games and watch movies, so he thought a big screen TV might be a good investment in his ministry but he also selfishly just wanted one really badly!  Yet, he was also sponsoring a child through Compassion International and wondered how many other good causes he could support if he bought a smaller TV.  

Frankly, the question nearly drove him crazy. Yet, shouldn’t we prayerfully consider such questions?  

Yesterday, I, like millions of Americans, found myself lusting after an iPad.  Of course, I began to justify the expense in my head–“The iPad is a combo of an iPod Touch and a Kindle, so it would save money and save trees!” or “I do travel a lot and it would lighten the load and enable me to keep up with pop culture, which is very important to my ministry to tweens and Gen-X and Gen-Y”, etc.

Where is the line? If we keep places like Haiti in the picture then when are we justified in spending money on ourselves and when are we being disobedient to our King?

What do you think? 

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