“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘you lack one thing; go sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” (Mark 20:21-22)
In a capitalistic society like our own, one would expect disgust, dismissal or blatant laughing in Jesus’ face at his demand to sell everything and give it to the poor as a prerequisite to following him. It is easy to imagine this man shaking the dust of his designer suit, adjusting his fancy sunglasses, tie and slicked hair before chuckling to himself and getting back in his limousine to leave this loser behind.
As fun as it is to imagine that scene unfolding, that is not the story Mark is telling.
Mark tells us the man walks away “shocked and went away grieving for he had many possessions” (Mark 10:22).
This should tell us three things.
- This man actually wanted to follow Jesus. Why verbally spar with Jesus over the commandments if you weren’t serious about your faith life? His concern over living a righteous and abundant life (eternal life) – leaves one thinking that he was a true seeker. He was successful in life and now he was looking to live a meaningful one. There is a genuine, recognizable, endearing quality in this guy that moves us to like him, root for him and even see ourselves in him. We are him in many ways. On our best days, we want to make a positive difference in the world, but Jesus makes it harder (not easier) for us to do so by pointing out that our possessions and our wealth – hold us back from total devotion and humility. We are often too comfortable, and get in our own way of truly following Jesus with our whole heart, soul and mind. This interaction inspires reflection: What is holding you back from following Jesus?
- This conversation also reveals how enslaved by our consumerism we are. Would any of us actually give up “everything” to follow Jesus? We live in a culture that keeps us desiring the best things in the moment (even if we cannot afford them) and longing for more and more comfort and material goods. The disciples complain that they have “left everything” but still struggle. Perhaps there is some consolation in knowing we are in good company in wrestling with Jesus’ demands upon us while we try to make a living, provide for our families, share what we can and plan for the future as stewards of our finances. By inviting us to leave it behind and follow him, what kind if life is Jesus offering us to live?
- Salvation, discipleship and witness is impossible, but only if we seek to it for ourselves. The example Jesus gives of a camel passing through the eye of a needle reveals how outlandish a proposition it is to enter God’s kingdom on our own. But, Jesus insists, all things are possible for God (Mark 10:27). Ultimately this interaction with both the rich man and the disciples is a reminder of God’s undeserved mercy and grace. This invitation may come as shock and amazement to us, but Jesus offers it in love (Mark 10:21). Are you ready to trust in that love?
“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
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