Jesus and the Rich Man
By Patricia Backora, author of the book:
Tough Love in Christ's Millennium, which you can order online from: http://www.publishamerica.com
Jesus and His four half-brothers were toiling in the carpentry shop one morning. James was in a sullen mood. He took his workaday frustrations out on a long plank. His loud banging almost drowned out Jesusí hymn of thanksgiving.
ďI donít know what there is to sing about,Ē said James. ďAnother day, another shekel of taxes for the rich man who lives only to exploit us. The good-for-nothings...Ē
ďEnough of that, James,Ē Jesus said. ďFather Abraham was rich in faith as well as in earthly goods. There is hope even for the rich, though a camel would have an easier time threading himself through the eye of a needle than for a covetous man to enter the Kingdom of God.Ē
Bitter laughter all around. ďAmen to that, brother,Ē Jude nodded, busy with his lathe.
ďAnd remember what our parents said,Ē Jesus said. ďWhen I was a tiny child three great men from the East came to bring Me gifts. Their kindness made it possible for our parents to take me to Egypt to escape Herodís wrath.Ē
James drew a deep sigh. ďThere are exceptions, Jesus, but you must remember how most rich men got that way. There is but one loaf in this world, and in order for the rich to fare sumptuously we poor must subsist on their crumbs. Being poor is a sure sign of Godís disfavor.Ē
ďAye, that is so,Ē Jude and Joses aver.
ďDo not confine God to your meager purse, James,Ē Jesus said. ďGod has chosen the poor of His Kingdom to receive His spiritual riches, for their hands are not already full of vain things which do not endure. Better is the substance of the righteous poor than all the riches of the wicked. God spoke this earth into existence out of nothing and all we need do is ask His blessing upon what little we have. Whatever is consecrated to our Heavenly Father will, like a tiny seed, grow into eternal riches laid up in heaven where no thief can break through and steal.Ē
ďThieves,Ē Jude said, remembering a passage from the Prophets. ďRestless men forever foaming like the waves of the sea, never resting content till they wreak some mischief on the weak and defenseless.Ē
ďBah!Ē brother Simon barked. ďThieves and rich men! One and the same! Worthless lot, all of them!Ē
Their deep dialogue was cut short by a portly figure standing at the door: a resplendently clad gentleman, garbed in purple silk. Obviously he must wield some clout in society. He wore a striped turban with a jeweled clasp. The carpenters glimpsed a curtained litter attended by liveried servants who, glad of the break, grimaced and rubbed their aching muscles. Barefoot village children in dusty rags stared wonderingly at the sight. Never before had they seen such a prince of a man in their town.
Jesus peered up from His workbench, but didnít seem overawed by the rich man. His soul was just as needy as anyone elseís. The wealthy merchant averted his gaze from the bare-backed laborers, all shiny from honest sweat. He waited for the carpenters to don their tunics, then went in.
Jesusí four brothers were amazed that one such as he should grace their humble shop, one who was spared the perpetual sentence passed by God upon Adamís seed, the sweat of toil. "James," Jesus whispered, "I need to handle this Myself. Would you fellows go into the house and lend a hand to Mother and our sisters? Iím expecting some friends for lunch. Please ask them to bake a few extra griddle cakes and throw some smoked fish on the fire to serve with the porridge."
"And how many guests are coming to this sumptuous feast, Jesus? It isnít even a Sabbath supper."
"Five are coming, James."
"That many, just for an everyday lunch?" James shook his head. "You never even told us."
"Itís a surprise," said Jesus. "And please donít give Me a hard time about it. Mother is still not fully recovered from the passing of our father, so letís show a little compassion, please."
"So why should men do womenís work?" James growled. "We slave all day to support sisters who ought to be married off by now. Why canít they handle unexpected company? Admit it, Jesus. You want us to go help mother so you can negotiate with this fine gentleman all by Yourself. Arenít we even worthy to stand in his presence?"
"Big strong guys like us baking bread! Bah!" brother Simon chimed in.
Jesus was saddened by the typical male attitude of his day. "Just do it, fellows. If you truly love our mother prove it by loving deeds. She would enjoy your company and I really must have a private word with this gentleman."
The brothers left their work stations, throwing down their tools with a loud clatter. The nerve of Jesus, pulling rank on them as the eldest.
"Iím sorry you had to witness that," Jesus said to his new customer. "James needs to learn to bridle his tongue."
The man nodded amiably. "I have heard of the recent death of your father Joseph. At least you treat your mother with the consideration she deserves. If only Iíd been kinder to my own poor mother after my father died."
Jesusís tender smile soothed a tormented soul unused to getting smiles of any kind from the downtrodden poor. "Perhaps you were so caught up in your own sorrow you lost sight of your motherís grief," Jesus said, looking intently at Simon.
"That is so," Simon said. "When somebody dies the living must take up the burden of the deceased. I tried to become the scholar of Scripture I failed to be before my fatherís death. What better way to honor Fatherís memory, and it served as a welcome distraction from my grief. But I was so engrossed in my own spiritual betterment I was of small comfort to my own mother. It must be difficult having to take up the mantle of your father in this household. Sibling rivalry, that type of thing."
"Oh, I manage," Jesus said, "with the help of our Father in heaven who comforts those who mourn. Welcome to My shop, Simon bar Ezekiel. Iíve been expecting you."
How strange, Simon mused. Weíve barely met but I feel so drawn to Him. What is there about this poor Carpenter that makes me want to tell Him the secrets of my heart?
"How odd. I feel like I already know you, but how do you know my name, young man?" Simon asked, mystified. "I donít even live in your village."
"Seekers of the Truth live everywhere, Master Simon. You hunger for what money cannot buy."
Simon blinked at His miraculous insight. But he found this man so much more interesting than any rich Pharisee heíd broken bread with. "That may be, but my immediate need is a new banqueting table. My other oneís all rickety and scratched up. Iím disposing of it because it no longer matches my decor."
"If youíll let Me have your old table to fix up for a poor family as a gift," Jesus offered, "Iíll make you another one free of charge."
"Itís a wonder you donít lose your cloak, Jesus, being so generous and all."
"But Master Simon, I enjoy being generous. God always supplies all My needs. Ordinarily I do charge something for My services, but today the Father in heaven wants Me to waive My labor fee."
"Have I need of charity from a man poorer than myself?" Simon asked pointedly. His eyes roved from his own pearls and finery to Jesusí homespun tunic. "God has richly blessed me. I have need of nothing."
"And God has likewise blessed Me," Jesus said. "Yet I have a need only you can meet."
"Youíre talking nonsense, young man. First you claim God meets all your needs, then you say you need my charity. And yet you refuse my offer of honest wages for honest work. I am an expositor of the Law and I know Scripture warns against using your neighborís service without wages."
Through fathomless eyes of love Jesus said: "Whenever you minister to the least of these my poor brethren you do so in My Name. The poor are My neighbors, and I came to give them life everlasting. God makes righteous people His ministers in serving the table of the poor."
"But your family are also poor," Simon asserted. "Surely you need money for your own familyís table."
"We have more than enough," Jesus quietly said. "We have food for this day and God will provide for tomorrow. Unless you are willing to pay Godís price, I can do nothing for you."
"I need a decent table," the man insisted, reaching into his money bag. "Other-worldly though You are, you canít subsist on nothing. Of course You can have my old table, Jesus. And here. At least accept enough money for materials. I want a long table three cubits wide by fifteen cubits long. Make it of the finest hardwood. Inlay the edges with floral mosaics and polish it till it shines. When itís finished, Iíll send my servants to come pick it up."
Jesus jotted the details on a broken potsherd. "No problem, sir, I can do this for you...so long as you meet My terms. Iíll do My very best...and we can deliver it to you too. "
The man lingered in the shop studying the strange young carpenter Who had the gentlest face, this remarkable Artisan who acted well-off enough to pick and choose which jobs he would deign to accept. "Jesus," said Simon, "Iím not your ordinary run-of-the-mill rich man who oppresses the poor. I want to give You something in return! What can I do to show You my gratitude? What is it Youíre really after?"
"Sell all you have and give to My brethren the poor."
The rich man wondered if Jesus might be unbalanced, but the orderliness of the Carpenterís shop and quality of the ox yokes and furniture on display testified to a sound, intelligent mind.
"I...Iím not ready to do that yet, Jesus," said Simon. "I need a home to live in, food to eat, clothes to wear. Iím not yet strong enough in faith to divest myself of all my worldly goods. Isnít there some other way I can show myself a righteous man worthy of salvation?"
"Yes. If you would enter into the Kingdom of God consecrate your new table to My Fatherís Kingdom. Once I have finished your fancy table invite all your poor neighbors to dine with you whenever you are inclined to throw a party. Honor your fatherís memory by living the spirit of the Law: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself. Share your food with the hungry. Let your weary servants dine with you at mealtime and serve them yourself. Wash the feet of those who are so weary they can hardly stand. Cheer the hearts of the lowly by treating them like your own family. Ease the burden of shame the poor must bear in this evil world, for it is quite heavy enough."
The manís eyes widened in horror. "I canít live like that! All my friends would think I was crazy! Iíd be the laughingstock of the whole synagogue!"
"You can either choose them or choose God," said Jesus. "You canít serve both God and mammon."
Such advice from a lowly Carpenter would have seemed preposterous had the rich merchant not already been wrestling with his conscience all the way to Jesusí shop, struggling to stifle nagging guilt feelings about luxury living in the midst of misery. "You drive a hard bargain, young man, but I know my days on earth are numbered and I so much want to share in the lot of the righteous when God raises the dead on the last day."
"You shall," Jesus assured him. "Iím working on that too, Simon bar Ezekiel. Would you and your men kindly join us for lunch? It will be far simpler fare than youíre used to, but I offer you the hospitality of My home."
Never before had the elderly gentleman been invited to dine in a poor peasantís home, but he readily accepted. All he could see was a wise Prince in the guise of a meek and lowly Man who treated him like a friend, not like a rich man to be deferred to. Simon rushed outside to call his four servants to come and dine.
As he got to know Jesus better, Simon admired the young Carpenter from Nazareth and wished he were more like Him. He might have hired any other man on the Street of the Carpenters, but Jesus had a reputation for fine craftsmanship. Not only that, he was such a gracious young Man, full of wisdom and kindness toward rich and poor alike. Jesus said his table would take weeks to complete, even with the help of his brothers, who gladly volunteered their skills so a rich man could properly entertain destitute beggars poorer than themselves. Even James was in a better mood by now. Because he had something to give, he didnít feel quite so poor anymore.
The merchant knew Jesus must make a special journey to purchase the materials, saw the wood into planks, cure it, sand it then shape it into interlocking pieces to fit together. The table would be carved with skillful hands, patiently polished and beautified with mosaics to make it fit for a kingís palace.
Simon sang for joy all the way home. Elderly though he was, he even got off his litter to walk the rest of the way home when one of his bearers moaned from an aching back. But so what if Simonís jeweled sandals would get dusty? His heart was as light as a childís, liberated at last from chains which once bound him. Still he wondered how the village Carpenter could be working on a way to ensure his resurrection unto eternal life.
While Jesusí brothers wondered about Him, He sang at His work, glad of the transformation in the rich man. As for the fine table, the day finally came when Jesus was able to lay down His tools and say: "Thank God, itís finished." When He delivered it He said: "Remember your promise, friend, and the day will come when you will dine at My table in My Fatherís Kingdom. Now I must go and work on your eternal salvation."