The one with the most toys wins

Published 4:55 pm Tuesday, October 15, 2019

By Charles Qualls

We stepped off the train in Paris on a picturesque, comfortable November morning. My friend Greg and I walked up the slight hill and watched an obviously large and ornate building grow enormous, right in front of our eyes. The Palace of Versailles.

World History Class in 10th grade was where I first heard of Versailles. Coach Williams made world history come alive and from that quarter on, there was no place I wanted to visit more than the palace. The art collection, the furnishings, the sheer scope and scale of the place. Outside was the grand canal and the acres of manicured topiaries and hedges.

Now, I was finally standing there. Of course, the Hall of Mirrors was perhaps the grandest symbol of all. It was the place where the Sun King’s love for brightness could be captured as it elevated his wealth and status for all to see.

I marveled at what I saw. Couldn’t believe my good fortune, finally getting to behold this triumph of imagination, architecture, art and sheer daring. We toured for probably an hour or two before it finally hit me. I must have said aloud, “Oh my goodness…!” Or something like that. Because Greg looked at me and said, “What?!”

I replied, “Well suddenly, the French part of World History makes sense! No wonder the people rebelled. Louis and Marie Antoinette lost their heads mostly over this house! Here most of the peasants couldn’t afford to make a sandwich, but the King was stealing their money and living like this.”

In Mark 10:17-27, an important and wealthy young man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus emphasized to him that he couldn’t buy or manipulate his way into that. However, Jesus did take note of what he knew of this young man whom he loved, by the way. This person was driven by his stuff. For he had many possessions.

Perhaps never more than right now in America, our own culture is telling us another lie: “The One With the Most Toys Wins.” A professional football player once bought a $200,000 watch and got caught trying to wear it during a game. Some buy a particular luxury car, these days, because it is exotic and will literally drive itself. Others buy tremendous yachts and station them down in the Caribbean with a chef and crew at the waiting.

I want to be careful. One person’s extravagance is another person’s everyday life. This is not so much intended to be a judgment on the “toys” that some buy for themselves as it is an exploration of the misfired notion that the “toys” actually matter.

Besides, everything is relative. My one home, which I am relieved to have, is less than someone else’s two, three or even four homes that they own simultaneously. But it’s also far more than someone else’s lack of a home. Or, substandard housing.

My used car I bought two years ago is humble compared with my friend’s huge, new BMW that he got for a substantial discount and an agreement that he would do radio commercials for them. But, it’s nicer than someone else’s lack of a car or unreliable one.

We don’t get to go over toward Suffolk or the coast, or maybe just run up to Richmond, every Friday night for a meal simply because the weekend is here. Those are special occasion places for us. But you and I pass someone else in WalMart on any day whose greatest wish might be that they could go to Fred’s and not worry about how they were going to pay for it.

Along with the young “ruler” who posed the question to Jesus, we learn an important lesson. Who God has transformed us to be, and our quest to be faithful to God, are what matter most. Scholars are pretty unified in the notion that Jesus wasn’t laying down forever more the notion that all of us need to sell all we have and live in poverty due to our generosity.

He did note that for this young man, his love of his belongings stood as a distraction between him and the kingdom of God. His stuff was driving his life, rather than the Creator. Likewise, we each do well to ponder further the lesson for all of us. That whatever we may be obsessed with, whatever we may give undue time, energy or focus, could be the thing that keeps us from being useful to God.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.