I’ve heard a bunch of sermons and read a bunch of blogs and seen a bunch of tweets on this passage recently. From Matthew 19:16-22; you know the story. Or if you don’t, this is it:
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour you father and mother, and love your neighbour as yourself.”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
I’ve heard this explained in many ways. Mostly what I’ve been taught is that this is not really about money or about selling your stuff. It’s about finding the thing that is keeping you from really committing your life to Jesus. Or, it’s not really about money or selling your stuff, it’s about living in a posture of being willing to let go of anything at any time if it’s the will of God. Or, it’s not really about money or selling your stuff, it’s about giving of yourself, whatever that looks like, to help others. And then there’s the warning that if we all sold everything we had we wouldn’t be good stewards because then we’d be the poor and we couldn’t help them any longer.
Never, not once, have I ever heard the teaching that this verse might actually be about, you know, selling your stuff and giving it to the poor.
I asked my older kids what they thought the story was meant to teach us. One said it was about how hard real change is. The other said it was about how hard it is for us to let go of our possessions.
Yes, and yes. And maybe some other stuff. But could these two things possibly be at the crux of this teaching story?
Real change is hard, sometimes too hard, and we care too much about our stuff.
I’ve sold stuff so I could buy different stuff. I’ve sold stuff with the goal of getting rid of clutter. I’ve sold stuff to pay the bills. All good reasons to sell stuff.
I’ve never sold anything I own with the specific purpose of giving that money to people who need it.
I was in Mexico once, in a poor village where I’d taken my family and some friends to help build a school, and I listened on a Sunday morning to a poor preacher in a poor place speaking to poor people. And what he said, via an interpreter, was along the lines of, Hey guys, come on. We might be poor. We might not have much, but we are still called by Jesus to give to those who need it more than we do. No matter how poor we are or how little we have, we’re supposed to share that with others.
Maybe this story doesn’t mean I should sell everything I have. But I can sell something. Maybe experiencing that is an important thing, not for the poor, but for me. Maybe that is part of following Him.