Jesus said to him, “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow me.” Mark 10:21.
One day as Jesus was about to set out on a journey, a wealthy young man approached him with a question. The question that this young man had was one that Jesus must have been asked numerous times, and it is one that people are still asking this very day. “Rabbi,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
This question is simple and straightforward; the man wants to know how to obtain eternal life, just as Nicodemus did in John’s gospel. As Christ starts to answer the man’s question, He begins reciting many of the Ten Commandments– Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie, honor your father and mother. Christ then says, “You know the commandments; go and keep them.”
This obviously wasn’t the answer the rich young man was looking for, in fact he seems to be a little let down that this is all he was required to do. “But rabbi, I have done these things since I was a child.” His response was simple enough, as if he were saying, “That’s it? That’s all I’ve got to do? I’ve always done that!”
Seeing that His initial reply wasn’t enough to satisfy the young man’s question, Christ gives him a more direct and detailed answer. The young man’s zeal for obtaining eternal life struck Jesus, so Christ told the young man the one thing that he must do–the one thing he had been overlooking– to inherit eternal life. “Go sell all you have and give it to the poor. Then come follow Me.”
When the rich young man heard this, he went away full of grief because he had many possessions. He was more concerned with his earthly wealth and possessions than he was with the kingdom of God.
Now, selling all of one’s possessions to give to the poor and other acts of charity are all very good and nice, but they are not the key to eternal life. The key to eternal life is found in the latter part of Christ’s second response to the young man, the part in which He says “come follow Me.” Following Christ is the only way anyone can obtain eternal life. Then why did Christ instruct the rich young man to sell all he had? Because Christ knew the state of the man’s heart, and He knew that as long as that young man had a vast amount of wealth, he would never be able to fully set his heart on following Him. The desire for acquiring more and more wealth would overpower his desire to follow Jesus. If the young man didn’t have enough faith to do as he was told by Christ when it came to selling his wealth, how would he have enough faith to trust that God would provide and meet all his needs? How would he learn to rely on God each and every day? He could not and he would not, because his faith was in his money and, though he strove to be righteous, not in God.
It is easier today, more than ever before, to have one’s focus as skewed as that rich young man’s was 2000 years ago. In a society where people worship technology and flock to stores in droves to purchase the latest and most cutting-edge gadgets; in a world where we are either in the 1% or the 99%, where does this teaching of Christ fit in? There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer for that; we must each examine our hearts to see if we have our priorities in order. If your only concern is yourself, your happiness, and acquiring more and more toys for yourself, then you have completely missed the boat and you are no better than the rich young man. If you are more in love with the things of this world, then you will be sorely disappointed in the world-to-come. Money can still buy you a lot these days, but it still can’t buy you salvation and eternal life. But, if your focus is on seeking and serving God, and everything else is secondary, then you have understood what Christ was saying.
We need look no further than the world-wide economic crisis to see how futile and fragile wealth is. It can literally be here today, and gone tomorrow. Don’t put your faith in your wealth and possessions; it will fail you. Put your faith in Jesus Christ, who bled and died for you. He will never fail you. He will never forsake you. He will be with you until the end of time.
That day, a man turned his back on Christ because he loved his wealth and the things of this world more than he loved God. Pray that we do not make that same mistake.