Summary: Wealth can blind us to the riches of Christ when they assume an improper place in our lives.

“A man came up to [Jesus], saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” [MATTHEW 19:16-22].

“As he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.”’ And he said to him, ‘Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.’ And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” [1] [MARK 10:17-22].

I do not expect that the name of Wellington R. Burt is familiar to any of us. When this lumber baron died in 1919 at the age of eighty-seven, he was the eighth richest person in the United States. His wealth was estimated to be between forty and ninety million dollars. He is not particularly remembered for his civic labours, despite serving as mayor of Saginaw, Michigan and as a Michigan state senator. He was a benefactor to the city of Saginaw, funding significant charitable gifts such as the City Auditorium, the Burt Manual Training School, a women’s hospital, a Salvation Army citadel and a YWCA. The town of Burt, Michigan is named after Wellington R. Burt and Burt Street in Saginaw was named in his honour; yet neither his charitable bequeaths nor the honours arising from a town and a street named after him are given any particular thought today.

Wellington R. Burt is remembered primarily for one of the most bizarre wills in American legal history. Burt distinguished himself by including a “spite clause” in his will—a clause that exposed him as petty and vindictive, perhaps even greedy. Burt sought to avenge a family feud by specifying a wait of twenty-one years after his children and grandchildren were dead before the bulk of his fortune could go to any descendants. In effect, Wellington R. Burt alienated his children and grandchildren from his estate, beyond some small annuities. The conditions of the will were finally met in 2010 after the 1989 death of his last grandchild. In May, 2011, twelve of his descendants finally received the estate, worth about one hundred million dollars. [2]

In his final years, Wellington R. Burt’s life had become a fortress against meaningful relationships; he walled himself off from family and friends. Even his physical remains are in a fifteen-foot-high mausoleum in Saginaw. It is fortified as if he tried to have an iron grip on his death, much like the tight-fisted way he had conducted himself during his lifetime. In fairness, there are suggestions that he may have suffered from mental deficits during the final years of his life. [3] Nevertheless, the implication for many people is that he walled himself off from the normal interactions that most would expect.

Perhaps Mr. Burt is not so different from many professing Christians. In order to explain what I mean by such a controversial statement, I invite you to join me in studying the text and applying the words of the Master to our own lives.

SEEKING TO PLEASE GOD — “A man ran up and knelt before [Jesus] and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life’” [MARK 10:17]? We have a few details about this individual. Matthew informs us that he was young [VERSE 22]. The particular term that is used would refer to someone between the ages of twenty and forty. Luke tells us that he was a “ruler” [LUKE 18:18], indicating possibly that he was a synagogue official. Mark notes that he was courteous and aware of the fact that Jesus deserved a measure of deference; he addresses the Master as “Good Teacher” [MARK 10:17]; this doesn’t appear to be intentional hyperbole.

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