I recently had a discussion with a group of people about the parable of the rich young man (Mark 10:17-24). In a nutshell (and I’m paraphrasing), a guy asks Jesus what it’s going to take to get to heaven because he’s been really good — he’s followed the commandments…he hasn’t murdered, committed adultery, stolen anything, lied or gossiped and he’s honored his parents. Basically, he’s wondering if that’s enough. Jesus responds in this way (v. 21):
“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.”
And, the guy leaves. It’s too much to ask.
The question that everyone seems to ask is: “Am I supposed to actually do that?”
My answer (and I’m not saying it’s right or wrong): It depends.
I think we get too hung up on what Jesus actually told this guy to do (sell everything and give to the poor) and not what I believe to be the point: Jesus was exposing what he was lacking in order to fully follow him.
In this guy’s case, his functional savior…the thing that he thought he couldn’t live without…was his money and possessions. It’s what he valued. It’s what he thought about. It’s what made him happy. It’s what gave him a sense of worth. It’s the thing that “saved” him. Jesus was telling the rich young guy that he can’t have two gods and that one had to go. And, we see what he chose.
I think this parable is asking us to look at what our functional savior is. What is getting in the way of following Christ? What are our earthly possessions? What do we think we cannot live without? What would cause us great distress to lose? What are we NOT willing to sacrifice under any circumstances? What are we lacking?
The bottom line is that I don’t think everyone is called to sell everything they own and give it to the poor, although I would argue that it’s probably something we need to be willing to do. And to be clear, I absolutely believe that we are called to take care of the poor under any and all circumstances. I don’t think that having material wealth is necessarily a bad thing. But, if it’s what we put our faith in, that’s when it becomes a problem. And if it causes you great discomfort to imagine giving everything you have away, it’s probably something worth praying about.
And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
(Luke 12:15 ESV)