“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:20 – NIV)
In one of our meeting with Christian Union leaders at FOCUS Kenya, we had the theme navigating change, remaining on the cutting edge. Anyone with experience in student ministry will tell you that it is as dynamic as it is non static. One has to keep looking up for new trends and opportunities in order to remain relevant. In doing so, it is also important to remain firm on course from the cross lest you misquote the term “prayer partner”, Kenyans will know what I mean.
Relevance is one thing we all seek for. It is bad enough to be told by your friends “acha ushamba” (quit backwardness). And one rich young man in search for relevance came to Jesus. I note with particularity that he could not find it in his wealth. The story is in Matthew 19:16-30 but I quoted verse 20 to highlight the depravity of earthly possession which is my subject for this post. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the rich young man was probably at the top of the pyramid, self-actualization. But lacked the assurance of one thing: eternal life. And he knew just where to ask of it from.
Jesus tells him in simplicity to consider obeying the commandments. Probably a good beginning point for any of us – to obey. The fellow is set back at the answer, he probably thought he was going to be instructed on which app to install or update so he asks “which ones?” And the good Lord answers with much ease, “do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother…” in what seems to me as impatient interjection, the young man says, “all these I have kept,” and continues to ask the million dollar question, “What do I still lack?”
Getting a little deeper (c’mon now), Jesus tells the young man, and all of us, that if you want to be PERFECT (on the cutting edge), you’ve got to sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. He did not leave it there, he nailed it by saying, “Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he WENT AWAY sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus must have looked at him with the look that says, “hatujamalizana buda” (we’re yet through sir). After that short melodrama, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” It is like the guys didn’t get it so he adds… “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…”
Really? Get serious Lord! The disciples were astonished that it was difficult for rich people to make it home. And this for a good reason. They had left their careers (some families) to follow Jesus and considered themselves poor. Peter (the secretary general) says to Jesus “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” The Lord assures them that a hundred fold awaited all those who lost for the sake of Christ.
It is important to note that slightly before this Jesus reaffirms the saving grace of God in response to the disciples’ question of who can be saved by saying, “With man this is impossible (our eyes have a limited view of things) but with God all things are possible.”
Throughout his ministry, Jesus lets us know with precision that wealth will be a hindrance to eternity. In Matthew 6:19-24 he again alludes to the fact that the heart is found where the treasure is. Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Disciples says of this that you don’t lead your heart to the treasure but that the treasure draws the heart. If you would want to pierce a man’s heart, just touch what seems most important to them, anything – from a car, a wife, a job, a position, a conviction to faith, just anything.
Will wealth bring us sadness when we have to let it go? Shall we be overcome by the desire to accumulate and forfeit eternity? Or can we gamble with both. Become rich on earth and rich in heaven? I think not. Christ is clearly calling all who intend to follow him to shed reckless abundance of material wealth and render our hearts. He is calling us to respond to the needs of the poor among us. So that we don’t thrive at the expense of fellow men. The concern for Christ is not how much you have thus affording eternity neither is it how much you lack thus deserving compassion but it is about how much willing you are to give up that which you can easily lose to gain that which cannot be lost.
It will be unfortunate if anyone of us lives a short, fast, affluent, comfortable life here under the sun only to lose the real deal which is eternal life. Yet we are not being asked to be desperate beggars who cannot fend for themselves or their families. No. diligence and service should forever be held dear to us. This is the only way to show that our faith is not blind nor superficial. We work hard for what we eat, what covers us and where we sleep. But the pursuit of these things will not be what costs us eternity. With equal measure of strength we attend to our obligations to God in devotion to Him and service to others.
What we still lack then is the cheerful heart to let go that which we honestly gained for Christ’s sake. He asks us to let it go not that we be in poverty but that it does not beset us and draw us away from him. As Matthew Henry puts it “It is required of us in following Christ, that we duly attend his ordinances, strictly follow his pattern, and cheerfully submit to his disposals; and this from love to him, and in dependence on him.”
May God give us faith to rest our hope on His enduring promise; then we shall be ready for every service or sacrifice.