Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Invitation to Pray
Over the next 6 months, the UK will be negotiating its departure from the European Union. This is a project of immense political and technical complexity. However, if the project goes badly, the UK could enter a period of crisis, of a kind that post-war Britain has not so far experienced. I therefore call upon you to join me in praying for the negotiating process.
Whilst many are rightly concerned about how any deal will eventually be agreed by the UK Parliament, the first big milestone in the process is a summit in Brussels next week. This will convene on 17 and 18 October and brings together the Prime Ministers/Presidents of the 28 EU States. If there is good progress but more remains to be settled, then there is likely to be a further Summit in November. Some 90% of the Withdrawal Agreement (including the areas related to Citizens’ Rights) has already been agreed, but further work is needed on trade arrangements and the Irish border. Both sides want a deal. However, as in any deal-making, things can go wrong, and the parties could talk past each other or fall out with one another. No-one should be under any illusion as to the seriousness of these negotiations.
I am aware that many of the recipients of this letter and those in our congregations are not British. However, this is a matter of more general European concern. So can I specifically ask you to pray for the negotiations in your Sunday services this coming weekend? Also, please consider setting aside 17 and 18 October as days of prayer. Pray specifically:
- For the civil servants working ‘under the radar’ to construct forms of agreement
- For the leaders of the nations to act in the interests of all their people and for the common good.
With all good wishes,
Yours in Christ,
+Robert Gibraltar in Europe
The French Riviera has a reputation for the conspicuous display of wealth. Nice’s Vieux Port and neighbouring ports host super yachts. In the summer months their Bond villain profiles edge across the horizon. Some of their owners maintain two crews even though they only use their yachts for a few weeks of the year.
The way we treat wealth is a major theme of Jesus’ teaching. Sunday’s Gospel – the story of the ‘Rich Young Man’ (Rich Young Ruler) – is an example. But when we hear it, we must wonder how to define ‘rich’. Is it limited just to those who consume so conspicuously like the owners of super yachts or private planes?
Isn’t the term relative? Visiting the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, the possession of jeans and anoraks made us seem rich. Today, people fleeing Syria and other conflict zones regard Germany and the countries of Northern Europe as rich. Yet within all the countries of Northern Europe, there are many disparities of income and wealth and individuals will perceive and define ‘rich’ differently.
These remarks are relevant to the way we respond to today’s Gospel: they shape how we understand ‘rich’ in the parable. It’s familiar from each of the synoptic gospels. Sunday’s version comes from Mark’s Gospel but the ones in Matthew and Luke are almost identical. We give the story the name ‘Rich Young Ruler’ because Matthew’s Gospel says that he was young and Luke’s calls him a ruler. All three Gospels describe him as ‘having many possessions.
In his society, this young man would have been respected and esteemed as wealth was regarded as a sign of God’s favour. That’s why in the Old Testament story of Job, his friends asked him what he had done to lose God’s favour when he lost the children, flocks, and herds of animals with which he had been blessed.
The Rich Young Ruler had kept all the commandments (been religiously strictly observant) so – to his contemporaries – it was natural that he should be blessed with many possessions and the respect (or envy) of others in his community. He would have been regarded as one of the leaders of his community.
So, when he asks, ‘What should I do to inherit (achieve) eternal life?’ and receives the response from Jesus to let go of his possessions, the young man and those around are shocked.
If he followed this advice, the young man’s friends would look on him as Job’s friends did, and wonder what he had done to incur God’s displeasure. And, at a practical level, they’d wonder how he’d live and where he’d live. It’s not surprising that he goes away sorrowful.
Nor does Jesus say anything easy to his disciples: he tells them ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’
What Jesus is doing, through his use of hyperbole, is to challenge the priorities of the rich young man and his own disciples. The rich young man had placed wealth and possessions at the top of his list of priorities. In a sense, he had made them his ‘god’. This is what Jesus is driving at. He will only be able to make God his priority if he rids himself of the distractions of possessions.