The Church faces opposition. It is natural for us to focus our attention on outside forces aligned against the Church. For example, Christians experience opposition from human authorities, from their own families, and from death. But there is also another source of opposition.
The story of the rich young ruler exposes the opposition we all experience on a daily basis: opposition from within. Perhaps this man was sincerely questioning Jesus about how he could inherit eternal life. But more likely he was seeking affirmation from Jesus, in front of the crowds, that he was doing all of the right things. So when Jesus told him to keep the Commandments, “The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:20-22, ESV).
The teaching of the rabbis of that day was that one should refrain from extreme generosity. They taught that people should never give away more than 20% of their property nor more than 20% of their income. Property ownership conveyed status upon the owner and was not something to give away. Understandably, the rich young ruler was shocked at Jesus’ instruction that he should give away everything he had to the poor. By following Jesus’ command, the young ruler would have forfeited his very standing in the community. Jesus was commanding him to give up everything that gave him identity, worth, comfort and respect. How did that even make sense? There would be nothing left to count on, nothing to rely upon, nothing to bring him peace and satisfaction. Or so he thought.
You might never have identified yourself with the rich young ruler. But perhaps we are all much more similar to the rich young ruler than we would like to think. Jesus is probably not calling many of us to sell everything we have and give it all to the poor. But he is calling us to surrender anything that we rely upon, or find peace and satisfaction in as a substitute for him. And that is where we find ourselves opposing Jesus’ call to us.
Like the wisdom espoused by the rabbis of two thousand years ago, our society instructs us that we are what we do, success is measured in dollar signs and we can only really depend upon ourselves. We are by nature opposed to the calling of Jesus to give up our independence and our sense of worth based upon possessions or status.
May we not be like the rich young ruler who “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions,” but live in the truth that all things were created by him and for him, and that only Jesus is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20, ESV).
Roy Heggland serves the CLB as Associate for Biblical Stewardship.