The Rich Young Ruler [Redux]

The young pastor decided to get away for a little while to get some peace and quite while he studied.  The office was no place to get any work done since the latest growth spurt and all of the talk of the new building program.  Everybody wanted a piece of his time, but none of them seemed to think about the fact that he was still responsible for getting two sermons and a class ready each and every week.

It wasn’t like this at his first church.  Things there were a lot quieter.  He had time to study and to spend doing the ministry that he loved.  He and his wife spent a lot more time with the people that needed them.  They really felt like family.  That’s why it was so difficult to leave when they did.

But this was the opportunity that he had been praying about since he felt the call into ministry — to lead a large church into new territory.  First Church had all of the markings of a potential mega-church and the leadership was ready to take things to the next level.  They were in full swing with their new “seeker-driven” model and they were really taking strides to “make a difference” in the community.  And the new building campaign was the next step in making that dream come true.

They had launched the campaign six-months ago with a big neighborhood carnival.  “We want to be good neighbors to the people of our community,” was the quote below his picture in the local paper.  Above his head in the picture was the brightly colored banner that read, “Catch the Kingdom Vision!”  And it seemed like people were completely on board from day one when they reached over half of their stated goal in pledges on the first weekend!

But that was six-months ago.  Today they reached the three-quarter mark for their pledges and while everyone around him was excited, he felt drained.  He had been preaching about Kingdom Vision for six months now and he needed something fresh, but sitting in the office with all of the phone calls and distractions wasn’t going to make that happen.  So he decided to get away for a little while.

When he found his favorite bench in the local park to be empty he breathed a sigh of relief.  “Thank you,” he whispered as he glanced at the blue sky above.  He sat down, found a good spot for his Starbucks Caramel Macchiato and opened his book bag.  He pulled out a few books by N.T. Wright and Eugene Peterson and then shyly pulled out one worn copy of a Brian McLaren book and slipped it underneath the others.  Since he had been here before he knew that he could get a decent wireless internet connection so he pulled out his new Mac and fired it up.  Now, at last, he could get some work done.

That’s when the unexpected happened.  He had heard about things like this before, but never in the middle of a public park.  And certainly not to an evangelical pastor!  He noticed the man coming toward him and thought that he looked very familiar.  As the man got closer the young pastor lifted his glasses and rubbed his eyes.  Was he seeing things?  Is this who he thought it was or was it some kind of vision?

The stranger walked up to the park bench and asked the young pastor, “Do you mind if I join you for a while?”

“S..s..sure,” replied the stunned pastor as he slid his stack of books closer to his side.

“Sure is a nice day for a walk in the park,” said the stranger.

The pastor looked around…partly to see if anyone was watching this conversation and partly to notice the beauty of the day.  “I don’t get out here much any more, but yes it is a nice day.”

“You know who I Am, don’t you,” the stranger’s words seemed more like a statement of fact than a question.  As if he already knew the next words out of the pastor’s mouth.

“I’m pretty sure that I do, but I’m really surprised to SEE you here in the park!”

“I don’t get out here much anymore either, but I thought you could use a visit today.”

“Wow!  I’m not sure what to say.  I mean, should I bow down and pray for a while or what,” the pastor asked with a slight quiver in his voice.

“Nah…I just thought we could visit for a while if that’s o.k. with you.  But now that I think about it, I guess that IS praying, huh?”

The pastor thought for a second and chuckled to himself, “Yeah, I guess it is.”

“So what brings you out here today?  Trying to get a little work done, I see.”

“Yeah.  The church office was WAY too busy to concentrate today, and I’ve got a sermon series that needs a breath of fresh air so I decided to get one myself.”

“Whatcha preaching about?”

“It’s called Kingdom Vision.”

“Sounds like a great topic…one of my favorites,” the stranger said with a slight grin on his face.

“Mine too!  But I’ve been doing this one for six months now and it’s getting a little stale.”

“Hmmm…I taught about that same topic every day for three years, and I never had that problem.  What do you think is wrong?”

“Well, it’s not the topic per say.  It’s more of what the topic has come to mean in our setting.  We’re calling our big building campaign Kingdom Vision as we look to take the church to the next level.”

“Oh, I see.  So what are all of the books for?”

The pastor picked up the N.T. Wright and Alan Hirsch books and began to put them in the bag.  “I read these to help me understand the nuances of Scripture and to help me understand the Kingdom message in the original context.”

“What about that other one,” the stranger asked.

“Uhhh…” the pastor stammered as he picked up the McLaren volume, “I read that one to help me bring the message down to a more understandable level.”

“Oh.  So you read that book to translate the other books that you use to translate the Bible!”

“Something like that,” replied the pastor.

“So why are you having to work so hard to translate the Message of Scripture,” the stranger asked quizzically.

“Some of this stuff is pretty difficult to teach in a way that people understand,” the pastor replied as he noticed a touch of defensiveness in his voice.

“Can you give me an example of what you’re talking about?  I mean, I know that some of the teachings are difficult to follow, but I think that they are pretty simple to understand.”

“O.K.  I can give you one.  In fact it’s the one that I’m working on this week.  This passage here where, uhhh, Jesus talks with the Rich Young Ruler and tells him to give all of his money away and then talks about how difficult it is for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom.  That’s a pretty tough metaphor, don’t you think?”

“What do you mean, metaphor?”

“You know, a word picture.”

“Yes.  I know what a metaphor is!  I just don’t know what THAT has to do with THIS passage,” chuckled the stranger.

“See this is all metaphorical!  The rich man represents worldly wealth and Jesus teaches his followers that they should take their wealth in the world and use it for Kingdom purposes.  Then he goes on to reference a gate in Jerusalem called the “Needle’s Eye” where a camel would have to get down on all fours and crawl through just to enter.  What you’re saying…I mean what he’s saying here is that even though it is difficult people should humble themselves and give generously to Kingdom causes.”

“Like building campaigns,” the stranger interjected.

“If necessary, yes, like building campaigns.  Do you see the metaphor that I’m struggling with now,” asked the pastor a little frazzled.

“I see where there is a struggle, but I have to say that there really isn’t any metaphor problem.  It’s just an obedience problem from my point of view.”

“What do you mean there’s no metaphor problem?  Everything you…I mean He…taught was a metaphor.”

“Yes.  I’ll admit there are a lot of metaphors in the Message, but this isn’t one of them!  The mustard seed…now there was a great metaphor!”

“So what you’re telling me is that when Jesus encountered a rich man who was trying to find his way into the Kingdom he really expected the man to sell all of his stuff and give his money to the poor!”

“That’s right.”

“Well how am I supposed to preach about that when we’ve got this building campaign going on,” the young pastor pleaded his case.

“I think you’ve got bigger issues than preaching, young friend,” the stranger remarked as he glanced at the new Mac and the Grande Starbucks.

The pastor noticed the look in the eyes of the stranger.  He felt chastised and deeply loved all at the same time.  He closed his computer and put it in his bag.  He shyly glanced at the Tag Heuer watch that he was given when he started working at First Church.  He looked back at the stranger and said, “I think I get what you’re saying now.  I’ve got an appointment back at the church in a few minutes, though.  Maybe we can talk like this again.”

“I’m always around,” the stranger smiled.

And the young pastor went away sad, because he realized that he had great wealth.

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~ by Chris Green on July 2, 2007.

One Response to “The Rich Young Ruler [Redux]”

  1. Ouch….
    Great post.

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