“Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” —Jesus
Those words seem radical. They don’t make sense. I’d even bet that there’s a temptation for you not to read any further because of how uncomfortable it is to consider their proposition.
Would you be willing to sell everything to follow Jesus?
The Rich Young Man
Of all of the words Jesus spoke, the story of the rich young man, also called the story of the rich young ruler, are probably my least favorite. They make me squirm. They speak to the heart of a struggle in my life (in mainstream American Christianity) and have caused me to wrestle with some deep questions of faith, and the true cost of following Jesus.
As the story goes…
A man falls on his knees before Jesus and says, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
After telling him to obey the law, Jesus looks upon him, loves him, and responds, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
The man, unable to part with his wealth, goes away saddened. Jesus immediately turns to His followers, uses the analogy of a camel and a needle, and says how difficult it is for rich people to enter the kingdom of God.
When I read this passage, it makes me feel like a selfish, pretentious, faithless failure for not selling everything. It makes me feel guilty for making money. It makes me question how any professing Christian could be wealthy.
I look at myself, at our culture, and I see the rich young ruler—missing out on eternity because we can’t let go of the temporary.
To counterbalance that feeling, I give to someone in need. But Jesus didn’t say give some, He said, “Give everything.”
In the end, I prefer to stick to pleasant passages about forgiveness, or God loving me in spite of my imperfections.
I don’t like the ones about sacrifice.
Let the Children Come to Me
But this morning, I read the whole passage and seemed to gain a different perspective.
Just a few lines before we are introduced to the rich young man, Jesus is teaching a crowd and is interrupted by a group of playful children. The disciples rebuke these children and Jesus quickly rebukes His disciples. He welcomes the children and says, “Anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Then, He blesses them.
If you look at this passage in sequence, in context, in order, it paints an amazing picture.
In both stories, we have children, coming before Jesus. The little children are careless and carefree. The young man asks what else He must do. In one story, Jesus blesses the children and in the other, the child leaves saddened.
For the longest time, I failed to see the precursor of the little children and simply focused on the rich young man which tempted me to take on a “give it all away” mentality.
But today, I look to the children. Children rely on their Father’s provision.
As young people and adults, we start relying on our own strength to provide. Our wealth, our status, our ambition, our obedience, and even the self-glorification in giving it all away have the potential to become a faux savior.
Instead of clinging to my wealth or giving it all away, I’m reminded to return to that childlike place. To loosen my grip and hold open my hand for the blessing of the Father.
Too often in my life, I’ve believed that spiritual development, had more to do with my obedience and my abilities. Like the young man, I was looking for a list of things to do. And when I couldn’t do those things, or failed to do them, I ran away feeling like a failure.
Now, I’m learning to cultivate the heart of a little child.
In that place, my Father is everything.
A New Connection
In the last few months, I have had the incredible privilege to connect with Kevin Adams. Kevin is the author of The Extravagant Fool: A Faith Journey That Begins Where Common Sense Ends. It’s an amazing story of God’s faithfulness to provide when all else is surrendered. Much of what I’ve learned from Kevin has emerged in my recent writing and I would be remiss not to encourage you to connect with him on Twitter and to pick up a copy of his book.