Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann

Invitation not information- Monday, 20th Week in ordinary time – Matthew 19: 16- 22

There are many unnamed characters in the Gospels; the Syro-Phoenician woman, the men from whom demons were cast out in Gennesaret or the father of the boy from whom Jesus cast out a demon at the foot of Mount Tabor.

Today we read of another unnamed person whose identity is revealed in dribs and drabs all through the seven verse pericope. The Gospel begins by calling him, ‘someone’, and then reveals he is male, young and finally that he is rich.  That makes him a rich young man.

The rich young nameless man has a lot of things going well for him; or so it seems. He is rich; plousioi in Greek, indicated that the man was rich enough to live properly on his income that was derived from land that he had hired to tenant farmers. This puts him ahead of the peneis or the working class who formed 70 per cent of the population and even more than the ptokhoi, the lowest class of people who could barely eke out a living and comprised of 28 per cent of the population. That put our young man in the two per cent creamy layer of society.

The rich man was also young; but more than that, he was ‘a man’. Misogynistic as this may sound, you have to understand this statement purely with a first century patriarchal mind set. A Jewish male, woke up each morning, to the crowing rooster. As his feet touched the ground he would faithfully utter a prayer from the Jewish prayer book, the Siddur. In this prayer, he would thank God for not making him a goy or Gentile, a salve or a woman. These three categories of people were deeply frowned upon and looked down on in first century Jewish society.

So the young man ‘seemingly’ has a lot going for him. To his roll call of material and physical assets, he also has an enviable religious life. He has maintained all the five commandments that Jesus sites from the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) including the additional command to love ones neighbour as oneself.

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