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October 2021

Joyful Children Versus Sad Rich Man

When Jesus said in Mark 10:14, “Let the children come to me,” I sometimes imagine what the children were saying to each other. Maybe they said: “Let us jump on his lap.” Or one could have said: “Let us show him the grasshopper that we caught today.” (Please read Mark 10:13-16, Matthew 19:13-15, and Luke 18:15-17).

“Please Jesus, bless my toy.” “Would you come and play Minecraft with me?” I often wonder what today’s children are saying to Jesus when they are in his presence. In the same breath, did you ever wonder what the children said to Jesus when he invited them to come forward to meet him? Maybe they were saying the same things as that of the modern child. Perhaps one child said: “Jesus, please take my pet sparrow and use it for whatever you want my pet to do.” Or another said: “Please Jesus, take these two pieces of fish and some bread that I have and give it to another child on your way to another village.” Whatever happened that day, one thing was evident. The children received Jesus’ blessing. (Mark 10:16). They went back to their homes joyful and secured in their entrance to the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:17).

In the following story in Mark 10:17-22, we see a contrast between the children and that of a rich man. This rich young man went away sorrowful and with a heavy burden, the very opposite of the joyful children. He could not let go of his riches. He could not give these to Jesus, or do what Jesus asked him to do; to sell everything, give his riches to the poor, and come and follow him.

It is noteworthy that in the three instances (or versions) of the same story, from all three Gospel narrations, Matthew chapter 19, Mark chapter 10, and Luke chapter 18, they place the two stories together—the story of Jesus blessing the children first and the the story of this rich young man next. I think the intention of the three Gospel writers here is to paint two contrasting pictures. One picture shows children going away joyful, and the other shows a rich man leaving with a heavy heart and full of sorrow.

So, in line with our attempt to contrast these two groups of persons, that of the children versus the rich young man, I would say it is fair to creatively ask the question: What did the children give to Jesus? And the answer is that they gave themselves to Jesus with no hesitation and no strings attached—with much freedom and trust in the moment.

And so, here are some questions for you: What are you bringing to Jesus? Or perhaps, a better question is “Which part of your self are you ‘selling and giving to the poor’ so that you are able to come to Jesus and follow him as your Lord and Savior?”

The Problem of the Rich Young Man

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus, at one time, replies to a rich man’s comment, and the way this man calls him good. (Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-30) Jesus knew that this man has a problem. What is his problem?

One is that he has problem with confidence and trust. He puts his confidence on his wealth. When Jesus asked him to leave everything, including his riches, we see in Matthew 19:22, that he “went away grieved” because he could not forsake his earthly belongings. He is attached to his life of ease and comfort.

Two is that he has a control problem. He called Jesus “good” as a way to direct the conversation to his favor; in other words, to manipulate the dialogue. Joel Green says that there is a “common theology that posits a causal relationship between divine blessing and the possession of power, privilege, and material possessions” (Gospel of Luke. Page 657). This rich man is really, in a subtle way, demanding that eternal life to be given to him. Jesus answers him by showing the way of generosity and compassion for the poor—the meaning of following Jesus. Which brings us to the next problem.

Three is that this rich young man has a problem with conformity. He does want to be a follower of Jesus. He does not want to conform his life to what Jesus wants, a life of humility, sacrifice, and the promise of the Lord’s resurrection, of him rising again on the third day. This is one reason why in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), this “Rich Young Man” story is narrated with three other stories, woven together within the narrative.  All three Gospels mention the encounter with the children, the healing of a blind person, and Jesus reminding his disciples of the Jerusalem event—the event that he will be facing persecution and death, and resurrection. All three stories illustrate to the readers an extreme contrast to the failure of this rich young man. In other words, he failed because he does not have humility like a child, he does not trust in Jesus like the blind person, and he does not welcome the promised resurrected life and generous living.

To be fair to this rich man, we also need to mention that the disciples themselves had a hard time understanding this life of confidence, loss of control, and conformity to Jesus’ way of life. In Mark 10:26, they responded with confusion by saying “Who then can be saved?” In Luke 18:34, the disciples could not comprehend the meaning of all that Jesus was saying. They also have problems. The only difference is that they are following Jesus in spite of their confusion and lack of spiritual depth. Whereas the rich man went away grieving and not obeying Jesus.

“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’“ (Luke 18:22)

Do not just say “God is good” but continue to a life of humility and generosity. Let us follow Jesus and conform to God’s will. Put God first in everything that you do and in all your aspirations. God is first in our lives.

Community Kids

“We love them for who they are.” One Free Methodist lady from Illinois tells me her story of loving the kids from their community. “They are a handful, but we love them just the same,” she continues her sharing with me. This month of October, I visited several churches and shared about God’s work in Asia. At many times during my visit, I would sit down with the pastor and a few church leaders over a Sunday church potluck dinner lunch and we would visit. I would hear stories of God’s work in their locality. For example, Wednesday evening becomes a time for inviting children from the church’s neighborhood. Sunday school times are also moments when the children hear lessons from the Bible. I hear the same kind of Christian witness wherever I go.

In the same manner, when I visit Free Methodist friends from Michigan, they would recount a similar story—stories of loving community kids and accepting them for who they are. There are many challenges, but these do not stop the Christian love from overflowing. One pastor even told me that he accepted the part-time work of being a school bus driver so that he can get to know the children from the school. “I make sure the school children know and call me Pastor Chip,” he shared with me. There is an intentional effort to go out there and become a witness to the kids of the local community.

At many times, I would stop talking and just listen to what our Free Methodist friends are sharing. God is working here in Illinois and Michigan — the same God who is working in Asia. I am grateful that I am serving our God who loves the children of the world.