Reflections

The Rich Young Businessman*

There is a well-known story told to us in the first three Gospel accounts that tells of a rich young man who approaches Jesus to inquire about eternal life. Jesus responds by quoting from the Ten Commandments, specifically a selection deeply connected to life within the world of business. The corporate world can be a very exciting place and brings deep meaning to the lives of many in our modern world. It is also a place that is filled with temptation, conditions harmful to a life of faith. Jesus’ response goes directly to the heart of these challenges.

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From the corporate boardrooms of global multinationals to the smallest of street merchants peddling their wares for a few dollars, all business people face situations that can polarize thought and action, creating a division that separates the physical and spiritual. Stressful work environments and demanding expectations can lead to great anger and resentment, while long work hours and close proximity to colleagues tempts unfaithfulness. Greed and need all too often lead to theft, lies and broken promises, sometimes ending in punitive actions that bring shame to individuals and families. The world of business exposes individuals to situations and conditions where loyalties can be put to the test.

The rich young man claims obedience, but Jesus sees through the mask, his well-crafted public image, and puts his finger on the heart of the matter. This man’s love for wealth, power, and status prevents him from truly taking hold of what Jesus is offering. Even now, the world of business creates similar challenges as it encourages us to draw our eyes from Christ and place them firmly on the world, tempting us to build our own kingdom. It is for this reason the very first question we ask new entrepreneurs addresses their own personal motivations and interests. Marketplace ministry is about getting to the heart of the issues that exist inside the world of business. Jesus knew that the rich young ruler was facing an impossible challenge, more difficult than stuffing a camel through a needle’s eye. The rich young ruler couldn’t do it. He walked away from Jesus that day deeply discouraged, his own personal motivation and interest out of alignment with those of Jesus. By having attention called to personal interests and motivations new business people have an opportunity to connect their work with their faith, to begin a process of reflection focused on the deeper purposes of business activities.

In some parts of the world the church has diminished or even condemned business as impermissible for Christians, leaving Christian business people feeling disconnected from their faith communities, and denying pastors an opportunity to provide meaningful contextual care for many within their congregations. In other places the church hasn’t condemned the practice of business but has missed recognizing the kingdom value of just and equitable corporate practice. Space has been created for business people to live one life on Sunday and another on Monday, seemingly existing as if their faith had nothing to do with their business practice. Fortunately it’s not all bad news. Increasingly churches around the globe are hearing the call to ministry in the marketplace. Every week, in sermons and Bible studies, Christians are discipled to love their neighbour, to notice the unnoticed, to love the unlovely, and to care for the poor, the hurting and the marginalized among us. Every day Christians reach out to their communities, in love, to share Christ in meaningful ways, both small and great. Sometimes this is done within the context of the marketplace, through the countless interactions that take place every day, actions that serve the common good, Christians serving and loving their neighbours through business.

Unfortunately much is being done everyday that fails to contribute to human flourishing, that is anything but just and equitable. When Christian women and men press into the corporate world, businesses large or small, and choose to do so in ways that honour Jesus, they are doing ministry. It is here, at the heart of the matter, that marketplace ministry finds its focus. Discovering together how just and equitable corporate practice can be one of the ways through which we can love our neighbour. Marketplace ministry is all about loving our neighbour, the poor and the marginalized, as well as the rich and powerful. Business people are uniquely situated to effect change, in poor communities where business owners are often community leaders, and in wealthy enclaves where business people hold great power and influence. Some days it really can feel like we are trying to stuff a camel through the eye of a needle, but as Jesus so hopefully expressed to his disciples, what is impossible for us is absolutely possible for God.

Join the conversation: Have you ever faced a choice at work that you knew was in opposition to your belief’s? How did you feel?

*Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-34

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