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Selling All, Giving to the Poor

Mark 10 is one of the most amazing passages in the New Testament because it is so harsh, honest and barely understood let alone followed. We all know the story. It’s the story of the rich man who comes up to Jesus and asks him how he inherits eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments, and the rich man claims that he has always kept them since he was a boy. Jesus responds by telling him to go sell all his stuff, give it to the poor and come and follow him.

Eternal life in biblical context is not the afterlife or heave/hell language that so many of us think it is or we normally default to. Eternal life in the bible means a fulfilling life that surpasses any other kind of life; a life of the age so to speak. The rich man here isn’t asking how he’s going to get to heaven when he dies, he’s asking Jesus how he can have eternal life now. Jesus first response is something I think a lot of us use all the time. When someone first comes to know Christ, we as the church pile on all the things that they must do now to be a follower of Christ. We caution them not to swear, sleep around, drink, do drugs and make sure they go to church and weekly bible study. You know, the modern ten commandments.

Usually though, we stop there, if someone isn’t fulfilled or walks away from Christ its because they haven’t followed they close enough. Jesus though, instead of telling him to “really make sure” he’s following the ten commandments looks a bit deeper into his life and hits him where his heart is. He makes it hard and painful. He tells him to give away everything that he has saved up for himself, everything that gives him security and power and then gives him the simple solution of following Jesus. Then he will inherit eternal life; then he will know what it is like to live for the Kingdom.

I think the command from Jesus to give away all your stuff is so revolutionary that most of us think he’s not serious. We will think of a hundred different reasons of why Jesus didn’t really mean what he said, or he was actually trying to make a point, or it was only for rich men (which by the way, in our world, if you live in North America, you are most likely in the top 1-10% richest in the world, even at 10, 000 a year) or fill in your own excuse here. We are so comfortable with our stuff and our money that we have convinced ourselves it’s not a problem. It is exactly that mentality that the rich man must have had. It was exactly that mentality that Jesus was combating by telling him to get rid of all his stuff.

I truly believe that until we can honestly say to ourselves that our stuff means nothing to us and that we could give it away in a second that we will never truly understand what it means to have eternal life. I think most of us are called to live a lot simpler than we are right now. I think that we are so far from experiencing eternal life that we have made up our own climaxes and feel good feelings and we try to use those to replace what it will be really like to actually follow the words of Jesus.

Just a thought…what would happen if we chose to sell all our stuff and give it to the poor? Or how about what would happen if we just stopped buying things that we didn’t need. Like that 20th pair of shoes that we own, or the tenth pair of jeans, or the brand new car or the constant eating out. This is only the beginning of what Jesus actually commands to the rich man, but I have a feeling most of us can’t even do that. I have a feeling that most of us are so caught up in feeling good about ourselves by money and what it can do for us with our up-to-date clothing, fancy transportation and having whatever we want instantly that we probably think someone is going off the deep end now if they actually chose to live simple. So, I’m assuming you reading this, have like me, not sold all your stuff and given it to the poor. So my question is, why haven’t we?

7 Comments

  • Interesting… I was going to write a post about this passage tonight. Must be something in the water.

  • I just gave my car to a poor person. I’ll be in heaven if you need me.

  • I have a lot of time up here to myself so I am getting some old testament reading done..
    Its appears the theme is to be blessed with things. To have a nation blossom from you, to get stuff, to inherit animals, land and wealth. Why and when does this theme change with Christ?

    I am sure people can justify why they have been blessed through stuff.

  • nathan
    Ron’s question is mine also.. at least, I’m stealing it! What does “shalom” mean in the new covenant? What does it mean to have life, and that abundantly? Is it only spiritual.. a renewed dualism.. and we have to wait for heaven for the good life? I feel you have painted yourself into a corner..
    Secondly, I tell my friends I know what it is to be poor.. and it comes from a conversation with a black brother in Fresno in 1989. See.. he visited our church.. and later told us he couldn’t relate. “Those dudes think they had a bad day if they get a flat tire.” He was unemployed, ex-addict, living in the slums. And he talked about choices.. of which he had none. It came to me that poverty means powerlessness. And I understand that. My wife and I have had to deal with significant debt, and we’ve seen most of our friends have choices while we had none. $10,000 a year isn’t poor in Calcutta… but in Canada.. yoiu bet it is.

  • Hey Len, thanks for the comment.

    I am having a difficult time with your first set of questions because you make it seem as if the ‘good life’ depends on abundant wealth. I think our physical lives are direct reflection of our spiritual lives and they are interconnected which is why it makes sense that Jesus told the rich man to go sell everything, maybe he saw that his physical possessions were getting in the way of his spiritual life.

    I did write this post a week before this one that I think is more along the lines of what you are saying, that might clear up some of the things, though I do warn you this is all a fairly new train of thought that I’m working through and trying to understand.

    http://nathancolquhoun.com/blog/index.php/2006/08/02/the_kingdom_what_does_poor_even_mean
    and this one
    http://nathancolquhoun.com/blog/index.php/2006/07/29/the_kingdom_living_like_the_poor

    I guess what I have a hard time doing is saying that poor is relative when it only makes sense to me that everyone is supposed to be my neighbour.

  • thanks for posting this. i absolutely agree that material wealth is usually what stands in the way of actually having an abundant life.

    Jesus cares that we have a rich spirit. all of the external stuff should not be a concern to us because our heavenly Father will provide for us as needed.

    Our lives should not be about seeking and reveling in God’s blessing, they should be focused on blessing God.

  • Nathan,

    It’s impossible to have any real understanding of the meaning of this passage until, as you say, you have actually put it into practice to at least some extent or in some way.

    The first time I relinquished claim on my worldly possessions, it revolutionized my view of life. And as I gradually accustomed myself to the idea that nothing really was mine, amazing things started to happen.

    The day you give a stranger the car you are driving, the watch you are wearing, the shoes or coat you have worn for 10 years, or whatever, your whole world turns upside down.

    Thanks a million for telling the truth about this important and unambiguous saying of Jesus.

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