Jesus said we should be servants (Jesus first – Others second – Yourself last) as he modeled during his time in this world. In our culture (being the World) we often laud and praise position and accomplishment; indeed, we’ve somehow come to believe (and teach our children) that worldly accomplishment is a goal worthy of extended efforts. While there is no inherent wrong in working hard to become a better pianist or the number one tennis player, when that goal supersedes the goal of knowing (really knowing) Jesus, we likely begin to lose our hope of holiness.
We convince ourselves that by first gaining position and accomplishment, we’ll then be able to serve others. Jesus’ conception of service did not follow this model. Jesus didn’t seek position or entitlement even though some hoped he would. Jesus came to teach us to serve – to serve by feeding the hungry, to serve by clothing the poor, to serve by touching the untouchable, to serve by loving the lost, to serve humbly … as He did (Matthew 20: 25-28).
The story of the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18: 18-27) is one that many have heard multiple times. I’ve read it over and over and have thought about it a great deal in the last few years. One usual interpretation is the idea that Jesus is telling ALL of us that we should give away everything we own in order to serve (follow) Him. I’m not sure who you think “the rich” are, but I do know that we all have a different definition in our heads for whom the term applies. If I don’t think I’m one of “the rich” (which is debatable but a totally different discussion), then do I simply ignore this story? Of course the answer is no. So, what can it possibly mean to me and you? These are my current thoughts: The rich young ruler heard Jesus’ answer to his question about inheriting eternal life … “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The young man was saddened because for him this was a seemingly impossible instruction to follow. For you and me, I believe, we need to determine the thing in our life that results in a seemingly impossible instruction to follow. Some possible questions: Do I have a job that takes all my energy so that giving it up seems to leave me with no identity – impossible to leave it? Do I have a house that I’ve convinced myself is one that I deserve – impossible to give it up? Am I in a relationship that consumes all my attention – impossible to live without? Do I believe that I must make more money to keep the stuff that I do own – impossible to live within my means? Could I be spending too much time on hobbies or even charitable work – impossible for those entities to do without me? This is not an exhaustible list; but hopes to convey the idea that we all are at times serving something other than Jesus – something that if He asked us to “give it up” would cause us to be saddened upon the thought.
What does all of this mean to us? I think the main culprit in our own head is fear. We profess to love Jesus and follow His commandments (as did the rich young ruler) but are unsure (fearful) of letting go of the stuff of this world. Maybe we have a conversation like this: “I mean, I’ve been a good person. Sure I’m not perfect, none of us are, and I’ve given time and money to the church. I really am a good person and I even know that Jesus is the One who saves us (it’s not of ourselves). I read the Bible and believe the words of Jesus. I’m not a rich person so I can’t afford to give up my livelihood, my house, my car, my flat-screen, my new clothes, … but I have given up a lot to help others. I’ve done all that I can and should.” And, maybe you have done all you should or could. Only you can decide.
I do know that Jesus didn’t give the same response to everyone he met – He didn’t tell everyone they haven’t yet given all to follow Him. Some He simply touched and healed. Some He forgave and sent on to sin no more. Each of us has to search our head and heart to find our answer to Jesus’ request. For me, I’ve decided that I have to give up the perceived security of my job (money, retirement, position) in order to truly find Jesus’ will for my life. I have to give away those things at this time and follow Him. That’s what I’ll do. What will you do?