With all the stuff this man had acquired, he still believed he didn’t have the one thing his heart desired the most. Despite a lifetime of practicing his faith he is still left looking for more meaning.
We live in a culture of materialism where we measure nearly everything in monetary terms. We are inundated by ads tempting us to believe that if we buy this or that then our life will be better off. We constantly buy into this narrative. Yet we always seem to come up short. So when we hear Jesus tell us to liquidate our 401k’s and give the proceeds away, our first reaction is to high-tail outta there.
In the book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietirch Bonhoeffer wrote that “discipleship can only be maintained as long as nothing is allowed to come between Christ and ourselves – neither the law, personal piety, or even the world.”
So the moral of this young man’s story might be: careful what you wish for, because it might not be what you’re ready for.
We might be tempted to look down on this rich young man, and even snicker as he walks away. But let’s put on his shoes for a moment.
In the ancient world material prosperity was widely seen as a reward of a person’s spiritual virtue. This is similar to the prosperity gospel preached in many churches today. The man’s wealth would suggest he’s done all the right things to make God blessed him so handsomely. Eternal life was ‘a given’ to someone like him. Even the disciples believed it. “If a rich person can’t be saved, then who can?”
Here’s the plot twist of this little telanovela. This deeply religious man neglected to realize that he was a beloved child of God, made in the Divine image. He already inherited God’s eternal Spirit.
What Jesus awoken in this man is a whole new level of understanding what eternal life in the Kingdom of God is about. It’s not about following laws until the end of the ages. Nor is it about the quantity of stuff, both good and bad, that we accumulate.
Instead, it’s quality of our giving that stuff away. It’s about connecting with the ageless values of God to care for the poor and needy. It’s the quality of our relationship with Jesus that unlocks this loving and giving spirit of God that we already possess.
In other words, it’s not about making a deal, but making a difference so others might benefit and follow Jesus.
Discipleship is less about checking off a list of religious obligations, and more about following the Way of Jesus that leads to eternal life. The journey begins with letting go of the life you know and love. It’s about leaving behind your home and possessions to serve someone other than your self. So careful what you ask for, right?
I can identify more with this man more than any other person in the Bible. When we did our first move for my ministry, I had to get rid of my collection of mid-century modern furniture and a whole slew of kitchy knick-knacks that I’d acquired over the years. It sucked watching my stuff drive off in someone else’s car. Letting go of the things we love hurts. But am I defined by what I own, or by who owns me: God.
The man walked away upset because he heard Jesus. And knew what he had to do. He had to let go of his old life to embrace a new and everlasting life. Sacrifice is not easy. But it’s also not impossible.
Keep yourself in this man’s story. Without his wealth he would be left vulnerable and powerless – completely naked in the eyes of the world – socially insignificant.
He knows that if he chooses to follow Jesus, his life will never be the same again. But isn’t that the point?
Jesus calls us to let go of our past, the things have caused us to stumble and fall away from God. He says, let them go and follow him. So the question we all must ask ourselves is, “Will we?”
Gauging by the dialog between Jesus and the disciples, we might assume this man ignored what Jesus asked of him. But does he?
A few chapters later, when Jesus is arrested in the garden, Mark writes, “A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” Talk about bearing it all for Christ!
Scholars believe this naked man is Mark writing himself into the story. If that were true, then I would argue Mark’s real story began at Jesus’ feet where he questioned his inheritance.
Similar to all the other people who were transformed by their encounter with Jesus, I believe Mark is this wild nudist who literally gave up everything he owned to faithfully follow God’s Son – just as he had been following God's commandments his whole life.
This man’s story is recorded in the Bible three times. It’s safe to say his life is everlasting, a part of God’s living Word for all eternity.
What do you need to give up in order to gain the gift Jesus offers? Greed, prejudice, ignorance, power or pride? What about the need to control others? Perhaps it’s a lifetime of secret shame or guilt.
It’s easy to give away clothes and furniture to those in need, especially after a natural disaster like Hurricane Michael. But what about giving up your privilege or your rights? Could you walk away from the life you know and love to serve someone less fortunate?
I’m not suggesting you can buy or barter into God’s love and grace. It’s yours already if you want it. But this gift comes with a cost. You need to look no further than the cross of Jesus to understand just how much God is willing to give up for you.
Here’s the good news. Jesus said, “Anyone who has left their family or fields, for my sake will receive a hundredfold now in this age.”
The way I see it is that with each person you show Christlikeness to, to everyone you care for and love, there will be hundreds more to serve and care for you when you need it.
We are called to follow Jesus, to follow the way he loves and gives of himself to all people.
Only when we are able to truly love one another, and share all our peace and prosperity with everyone, we will not only gain the world, but all the treasures of heaven.
God’s love is what makes all of life eternal – it’s up to us to give it away today until the end of the ages.
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 4. . Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost Of Discipleship. New York: McMillian, 1949.
Haverkamp, Heidi. "Reflections on the Lectionary." Christian Century, 09 26, 2018: 20.
Kesselus, Ken. Possessions. 09 21, 2018. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2018/09/21/possessions-pentecost-21-b-october-14-2018/ (accessed 10 12, 2018).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”