Gospel Rewrite: Jesus and Wealth

Read original Gospel text here. Read the introduction to this series here


Matthew 19: 16-17, 20-22

The Rich Young Man

16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 

20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, increase your possessions so that you might have the wealth to help others. The riches of the world are many, and they will accumulate somewhere. Why not with you? From this wealth, you can bestow charity on the poor and those who work with them. Truly I tell you, the poor will always be with you; we cannot change society. And what good would it do for you to give all your possessions away and become poor yourself? Does poverty need yet another victim? No, increase your wealth so that you may support good work; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away rejoicing, for he had many possessions already and longed for more. 

3 Comments

  1. Michael, I am struggling to find your intended or expected meaning in this rewrite. While the words you attribute to Jesus are certainly different from the scriptural account, I find this message no less radical.

    We all are given different gifts. If Jesus saw in this young man an innate ability to be successful at generating wealth, why not encourage him so long as the ultimate goal is to lift up the poor and to support those who work for their benefit? This was the guiding principle of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who believed that it was his obligation to make as much money as he could possibly make, so that he would have more to spend on charitable works and educational projects.

    What I find truly sad in this rewrite is the selective deafness of the young man. It appears that he heard only what he was predisposed to hear. He heard Jesus tell him to earn more wealth, but he chosen to ignore the admonition to use that wealth for the poor; rather, he rejoiced in his new-found license to increase his own possessions. This man will not find the eternal life that he seeks in his possessions.

    • Michael McRay says:

      Hi Michael, thanks for engaging with this. I understand the struggle. I suppose for myself, I’d say that my intent was to remind us that in this story, Jesus doesn’t actually encourage him to gain more wealth in order to be generous. He tells him to stop what he’s doing, giving everything away, and then come follow him. You ask why not encourage the man if the goal was to give to the poor? I’m not sure; I just know in the story, Jesus doesn’t. I decided to rewrite the story the way I did because this way of thinking about acquiring wealth—i.e., it’s okay to gain wealth if you are generous with it—is quite common among Christians. It is one that tempts me as well! It certainly appears to have noble intentions bound up with it. And yet, this was not the approach Jesus took to wealth in the stories written about him. He tells the young man to give away his wealth. He says that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person to enter the kingdom. He says we cannot serve money and God. I don’t know exactly what all this means for how we as Christians think about money. My intent is not to deliver a decision about this. It’s simply to say that the way many of us Christians have gotten comfortable thinking about having wealth—”well, it’s okay to be rich as long as I am generous”—isn’t actually an ethic of wealth reflected in the Gospels.

      Also, at its most basic level, these rewrites are meant to get people to reengage with the original stories. Which you’ve done! So thanks for reading.

  2. Greg Wack says:

    Don’t worry about what we’ll get. Instead, think about what we can give. Which led me to think: for-get or for-give?

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