The Rich Young Ruler (Artful Devotion)

'For he had great possessions' by George Frederic Watts
George Frederic Watts (British, 1817–1904), ‘For he had great possessions,’ 1894. Oil on canvas, 139.7 × 58.4 cm. Tate Britain, London.

And 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.

—Mark 10:17–22 (cf. Matthew 19:16–30; Luke 18:18–30)

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SONG: “Iesū Me Ke Kanaka Waiwai” (Jesus and the Rich Young Man) | Words and music attributed to John Kamealoha Almeida, 1915 | Performed by Mark Yamanaka, with Sean Naleimaile, 2018

The origins of this song are debated, which is why it often circulates with the credit “Traditional,” but many sources attribute it to John K. Almeida (1897–1985), a famous singer, songwriter, and bandleader from Oahu, who said he wrote it in 1915. According to music archivist Harry B. Soria Jr., Almeida offered “Kanaka Waiwai” to the Mormon Church, of which he was a member, but his gesture was turned down when the piece was deemed too “hula sounding” and unsuitable for a worship service [liner notes, John Kameaaloha Almeida (HanaOla Records, 2003)].

Almeida first recorded it, along with secular mele (songs), in 1946, accompanied by Genoa Keawe’s Trio. It gained immense popularity in 1971, when the Sons of Hawaii recorded it with Moe Keale on vocals. Now it is one of Hawaii’s best-loved hymns and is widely performed not only in recording studios but in churches. I’ve combed through dozens of performances to find what I consider the best, which is Mark Yamanaka’s. You’ll notice he employs a characteristic Hawaiian vocal technique known as leo ki’eki’e (“high-pitched voice”), a yodel-like break between registers. The video above is from a HiSessions acoustic live session shot earlier this year, but you can also hear him singing the song on his 2013 album Lei Maile.

Ma ke alahele ʻo Iesû
I hālāwai aku ai
Me ke kanaka ʻōpio hanohano
Kaulana i ka waiwai
Pane mai e ka ʻōpio
ʻE kuʻu Haku maikaʻi
He aha hoʻi kaʻu e hana aku ai
I loaʻa e ke ola mau?

E hāʻawi, e hāʻawi lilo
I kou mau waiwai
Huli a hahai mai iaʻu
I loaʻa e ke ola mau ia ʻoe

Minamina e ka ʻōpio
I kona mau waiwai
I ke kūʻai a hāʻawi lilo aku
I ka poʻe nele a hune
Huli aʻe ʻo Iesū lā
Pane aku i ka ʻōpio
ʻAʻole aʻe hiki ke kanaka waiwai
I ke aupuni o ka lani

A literal English translation, by Haunani Bernardino, is as follows:

Along the road, Jesus
Met
With a distinguished young man
Who was known for his wealth.
The young man said,
“My good lord,
What must I do
To gain eternal life?”

“Give, give away all
Of your possessions,
Then come and follow me
In order to gain eternal life.”

The young man grieved
Over his wealth,
Unwilling to sell and give all
To the poor and destitute.
Jesus then turned
And answered the man,
“Rich man, you will not enter
The Kingdom of Heaven.” [source]

When the song is sung in English, however (even by native Hawaiians), a completely different set of lyrics is used, going something like this:

Let me walk through paradise with you, Lord
Take my hand and lead me there
All my earthly treasures I will gladly give
Teach me how to love and how to share

Greed and lust and vanity were mine, Lord
Till I found your love divine
Now on my knees I pray that I will find a way
Let me walk through paradise with you

Oh, my Lord, my Savior
Guide my poor feet along that lonely road
Faith and hope and love will light the way before me
And I’ll walk through paradise with you

Oh, my Lord, my Father
Take my hand and lead me to paradise
Oh, my Lord, let me follow in your footsteps
Let me walk through paradise with you

I’m not sure where these lyrics originated, nor why a closer approximation of the original has not been attempted. This English rewrite drastically changes the content of the song, shifting it from a retelling of a Gospel narrative that ends on a sad note to a personal prayer that, while touching on some of the themes of the rich man’s encounter with Jesus, is sweet and bright and indicates conversion. One could say it’s a revisionist account told in the rich man’s voice—if he had surrendered to Jesus’s call rather than resisted, unwilling to give up his material wealth. He is thus held up as a positive model in this version, and we are enjoined to respond with similar boldness of vow (“All my earthly treasures I will gladly give”) and fervency of petition (“Let me walk through paradise with you”).

In the following video, an unnamed woman with beautiful vocals performs this English version to a simple ukulele accompaniment:


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 23, cycle B, click here.

One thought on “The Rich Young Ruler (Artful Devotion)

  1. I am so grateful for your blog. It’s an ongoing source of inspiration and refreshment for me. I’ve started using in with the homiletics class I teach as a way to help students make new connections and engage their senses as they wrestle with texts and learn about how to prepare sermons. Thank you.

    Like

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