nothing holding me back.
After Jesus left Galilee, He came in a region of Judea beyond the Jordan river, a crowd followed Him and He spent time teaching and healing them, but when He turned to leave that place a wealthy young man ran to meet Him and asked: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17). Jesus asked why this man called Him good since only God was good, but if he wanted to know the answer, it was that he should keep the commandments: do not commit adultry, do not steal, do not commit false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.
“Teacher, I have done these from childhood, what more do I lack?” This brought the attention of Jesus with compassion to this young man and He told him to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor and follow Him. To this the young man went away sad because he had a lot of stuff (he was the rich young man, after all). The disciples amazed, and not in a good way, and asked then who can be saved?
This young man comes in the confidence of everything he doesn’t do – he doesn’t steal, cheat, lie, and has always not done these things. The answer of Jesus is: Nice! now it’s time to start doing stuff. Everyone who comes to Jesus in Mark leaves with a challenge, to enter into a deeper relationship with Himself. Some responded very well to this, while others fell away – those most prone to walk away from Christ were those who came to only get from Him what they wanted; that is to use Him to their own ends – this young man wanted to draw a circle around himself to know what was good enough, and what wasn’t, but Jesus challenges him to go deeper.
It’s interesting to me that he doesn’t ask Jesus who are the poor? especially after he just asked the ‘Good Teacher’ what ‘good thing’ he must do. Poverty in those days doesn’t seem to reflect our understanding today. Almost every sick person that Jesus healed was either brought to Him, or had a family who took care of them. The region they were in, Judea beyond the Jordan, was extremely close to the territory of Samaria. It wasn’t enough that Jesus said “sell your things” or “sell and give to your parents”, but “give it to the poor” and the poor would likely be those cast out of the synagogue, who could not operate in mainstream society, likely, they would probably be Samaritans and a mess of others left in the footprint of the Roman empire. This young man didn’t just have wealth, but Matthew and Mark are clear that he had property. Why is this hard? Why did he leave sad?
The sorrow of this young man and the consternation of the disciples is probably due to the fact that most ancient cultures viewed wealth and status of a sign of divine favor, righteousness even. This young man would have been smiled on, thought well of, but Jesus tells him to give everything to those outside of mainstream society. Worse, he owned property, which meant he would be giving territory to cultural enemies. He would probably run out of his home town and never welcomed again. He would have to abandon everything. It wasn’t his wealth that held the young man’s heart, but his belief that Jesus was something he could quantify, draw lines around, and control, and like every other person, Jesus offers them something much greater, but asks from them far more – it is faith that heals, calms storms, and brings eternal life.
Until recently, I think I have ironically missed the intention of this conversation. If this passage is about wealth than holding wealth separates us from God, and giving wealth brings us closer to Him, but this makes possessions a point to curry God’s favor. It is the very problem that the young man had How much is too much and how much can I have and still be okay? God isn’t after stuff, but the heart. The price of following Christ: the cross we are asked to take up, is going to be different from person to person. Yet also, things had so clouded this young man’s heart that Jesus didn’t outright say “follow Me” which would have been convenient since He was leaving that place on a journey, but He said “sell everything and then follow Me, buddy, you’re never coming back here.”
“When we come to Jesus He will ask from us more than we wanted to give, but will give to us more than we could ever thought to ask.” – Tim Keller.
I feel like there is SO much more I can say: about him, Jesus, poverty and wealth, but not now. For this, it comes down to the problem we’ll face when we come to God to fold Him up into the suitcases of our dreams, to take Him along for when we need Him, rather than saying: make Your expectations my expectations. Ironically, the more expectations we put in things, the more we are disappointed, but the more we push those expectations back to God, it actually leaves room for the world to change, and allows people the grace to be people. I think God often frustrates my dreams to teach me; to burn away everything that does not lead me back. We are called to walk in a living hope; not out of fear, but to life. When we run from this we fail to believe God’s goodness, and so He must ask us to surrender to bring us back.