A man comes to Jesus, asking what he must to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus says, “you know the commandments.” Jesus then names several of them. The man tells Jesus that he has kept all the commandments since he was a youth. The text says Jesus’ response to this bold and confident answer was love for the man. Not surprise, not impatience, not judgment, but love. I wonder if Jesus is touched by his earnest focus on following the law, and on the fact that he is still seeking to be in right relationship with God. In the end, the man turns away when Jesus invites him to sell what he has, give the money to the poor, and then follow Jesus. The man went away, shocked and grieving. The text tells us he had many possessions.
Why did the man walk away? What was it about Jesus’ invitation to sell his possessions, give them to the poor, and then follow that didn’t work for the man? What are we to take from this encounter?
Through the years, I’ve heard lots of speculation on this passage. Perhaps the man was unwilling to take on a life filled with the uncertainty and discomfort that living without resources would surely bring. It is possible that he valued his position in the community too highly to walk away from the connections and prestige his wealth gave him. Maybe he was thinking about his children or aging parents and the hardships they would face if he gave away his (and their) wealth. There are many possible reasons. Some are quite understandable, while others are downright disappointing.
Reflecting on this man’s story leads us to consider what we are supposed to do with the resources we have. How do we who have wealth and resources faithfully follow Jesus? There are no simple or easy answers. In fact, having wealth and resources as we follow Jesus leads to a life-long exploration: looking for how we will use our wealth to care for the needs in the world around us while we care for our own needs, too. As we explore, we can begin with Jesus’ invitation to the man – use what you have to care for the poor. We can look at Jesus’s behavior in this and other passages. Jesus shows love and compassion to both the poor and the wealthy, and everyone in between. He invites his followers (including us) to live love and justice and compassion, not in order to earn a place in God’s kingdom, but to help bring God’s kingdom here and now.
Wealth and resources do make our lives easier in many ways. They are also a responsibility to be used thoughtfully and intentionally. Wealth can be used in ways that are consistent with God’s call to follow and to serve the needs of the world. We don’t have to go away from Jesus, shocked and grieving, because of our many possessions. We can follow Jesus, but we need to take seriously the work of figuring out how to use our resources faithfully for the good of the world. That is not an easy task.