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The Rich Older Ruler

It's been a while since I wrote a new monologue, and this one stepped fully fleshed from my imagination as I prepared to preach on today's gospel reading from Mark 10: 17-31. The picture is "For he had great possessions" painted by George Frederic Watts in 1894, part of the Tate Britain, collection, which I posted on social media as part of an #ArtintheOrdinary series that I have been posting in response to the weekly lectionary readings in this "ordinary" season. Of course (as I pointed out) to my congregation this morning, Mark says nothing about the man being young... that was Matthew, but it left me (as it has left many other more accomplished writers) wondering whether the anonymous man, young or not so young, reflected further on this encounter later in life, with some suggesting that he might have been Mark or even Paul, but such ideas are mere speculation... as is what follows... I didn't use it this morning as my preparations were too far advanced by the time this man emerged in my imagination, but the congregation will recognise some of the themes touched on... 

I remember it all so vividly even though it’s a long time ago. Back when I was young and foolish… young and full of myself. I had risen to the status of ruler in the local synagogue… Partly because people respected my wisdom… hah! But mostly because they respected my wealth… Wealth that was partly inherited from my father, but mostly earned, through hard work and careful investment of that inheritance.
But that day I was interested in an inheritance of a different form.
I had heard him talking about eternal life… fullness of life, then I had watched him blessing some of the local children and telling people that they needed to be like little children in order to know this sort of life, to be part of the Kingdom of God, and I was genuinely puzzled. I knelt before him and asked “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
I could hear some of those who were with me draw in their breath… they had never seen me do anything so demeaning before…
But he wasn’t impressed… instead he asked me “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone.”
That threw me… I was just trying to be respectful… I started to answer, but before I got a word out he continued…
“You know the commandments… Do not murder… Do not commit adultery… Do not steal… Do not give false testimony… Do not defraud… Honour your father and mother.”
“Of course Rabbi” I said “I have kept all those since I was a boy.”
I was thinking of the children that he had just taken in his arms and blessed… And he looked at me with the same look that I had seen him look at those children, but he said with real sadness in his voice:
“One thing you are missing… Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
My heart sank. How did he know? Was it my clothes? Had someone told him?
But why? I couldn’t understand… why would my wealth exclude me from eternal life. I genuinely kept all the commands that he had asked me about… I had never defrauded anyone in pursuit of greater profit. I had treated everyone fairly and had used my money for good… That’s why I had been elected as a ruler in the synagogue after all…
I had nothing to say… I simply got back to my feet… dusted myself off and walked away… Those who had come to listen to him with me parted to let me through… none of them came with me… they knew I had been humiliated and didn’t know what to say… there was nothing to say…
Later some of them found me and told me what he had said more after I left… that it was hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God… harder than getting a camel to pass through the eye of a needle… Someone else said that he hadn’t said that at all… that he had said cable, not camel… but frankly neither made sense…
At least they didn’t make sense at the time…
But you know as the years have passed by and I’ve thought over that encounter I wonder… what if?
That Rabbi is long gone… They say that not long after our encounter he annoyed the religious authorities in Jerusalem to such an extent that they arranged with the Romans to have him executed… and after my humiliation I had mixed feelings about that…
But his followers say that he lives on… And a few of them have followed him in getting themselves executed… But his words have lived on in my mind.
I have lived a full life… But have I experienced life in all its fullness? I don’t know… I have continued to give to the poor as the law demands… more even… but I didn’t sell everything… that would be foolish… Irresponsible… What about my children and all those who depend on me?
But I’m now at the age that my children are mentally totting up their inheritance as they wait for me to join my ancestors, and I find I’m telling them that money isn’t everything…
And I wonder… Is it to late for this hoary old camel to wriggle his way through the eye of that needle?



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