An Understanding Poor Man Sees Through the Rich Man


In the past, when I have read through the book of Proverbs, I generally viewed the book as a collection of wise sayings that needed to be applied to my life. Because they are proverbs, and not laws, they are statements that are generally true that will make one wise to navigate life according to God’s way instead of my own.

But, as I have read through the book of Proverbs this time, I have noticed that the book contains more than just wise sayings. Many of these wise sayings summarize, or distill down to their essence, events in the life of Jesus. Yesterday’s post, The Righteous: Falls Seven, Rises the Eighth, is one example of this phenomenon.

Proverbs 28:11 is another example of a wise saying that distills to its essence one event in the life of Jesus. The verse says, “A rich man is wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has understanding will find him out.” Yes, this is a wise and true saying, but it is the truth of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22 and Mark 10:17-22.

While it is not said in the two accounts of the Jesus’ encounter with the rich, young ruler, Jesus is the poor man of Proverbs 28:11. We know that Jesus was a poor man because when his mother took him to the temple for their purification after his birth, Mary’s offering consisted of “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22-24, Leviticus 12) In addition to growing up in a poor family, the gospels tells us that during Jesus’ ministry he had nowhere to lay his head, indicating that he had no land of his own. And, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

In the two accounts of the rich, young ruler in the gospels, the man comes to Jesus and asks what must he do to have eternal life. Jesus tells the rich, young ruler:

  1. do not murder
  2. do not commit adultery
  3. do not steal
  4. do not bear false witness
  5. do not defraud
  6. honor your father and mother

These are the last six commandments of the ten commandments from Exodus 20:1-17 with the commandment to honor your father and mother moved from the 5th to 10th position. All of these commandments have to do with our relationships with other people and how we treat them.

The rich, young ruler tells Jesus that he has done these six commandments. “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” But, this was the man’s own assessment. In his own eyes, the man had kept these commandments. In his own eyes, the rich, young ruler was wise.

“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.'”

Having been rich, yet becoming poor, and living as a poor man his whole life, Jesus was able to find out, to discern, to see through, the rich, young ruler’s situation. Jesus knew that on some level, in some way, although not in every way, wealth was acquired by breaking one or all of the six commandments that he instructed the man to keep and the man said he had kept. Jesus was able to see through the rich, young ruler’s life and discern that he had not truly kept the commandments. The man may have kept them externally, on the surface, by the literal letter of the law. However, the man had not kept them internally, in the heart, according to the Spirit.

Therefore, Jesus instructed the rich, young ruler to sell everything he had. I believe Jesus said this not to condemn wealth or riches in and of themselves but to open the man’s eyes to the true connection between wealth, the commandments, and our love for others.

The rich, young ruler is saying he had kept all these commandments. He is saying he has done everything needed for eternal life.

But, Jesus is saying you would not tell me you have kept all these commandments if you had a true understanding of how the world works, how your wealth has affected others, and how God’s life expresses itself. If you truly knew all of this, then you would never say you have kept all these commandments, even from your youth.

Jesus, a discerning poor man, sees right through the rich man’s self justification, and self-righteousness, and instructs him to do the one thing that will reveal to the rich man that he has indeed not kept the commandments from his youth.

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