One of the most influential books I’ve ever read is The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonheoffer. In it, he writes about the necessity of giving up what we hold most dear when we choose to follow Jesus. Or, as Bill Hybels says, “95% devotion is 5% too little.”
In Matthew 19 we find a story which illustrate what it takes to follow Jesus. It begins with a question asked by a rich young man: What must I do to inherit eternal life? This account as well as the version written in the gospel of Mark both describe this man addressing Jesus as a “good teacher,” which implies great respect for him.
Jesus responds with a call to obey the commandments which prohibit murder, adultery, theft, giving false testimony, and commend loving our neighbor. Within the context of this story, it can also be assumed that this rich man gave to the poor as the Jewish scriptures commanded.
When this young man measures his life against these requirements of the law, he claims that he has done everything right. And yet, Jesus responds by calling him to give up all of his possessions and follow him (Matthew 19:21).
So often, we hear this passage explained away with phrases like “God doesn’t expect everyone to sell their possessions” or “This man must have had an unhealthy relationship with money.” While both are true, I feel that at times we miss the larger principle of this passage – that following Jesus should cause a significant change in our lives. Joseph and Mary face shame and embarrassment for the circumstances around the birth of Jesus. John the Baptist faces imprisonment, and eventually death at the hands of a dictator. Matthew leaves his profession as a tax collector (Matthew 9). Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy citizen, risks his status and probably his life by claiming the body of Jesus in Matthew 27.
Following Jesus has always involved giving up what we have for something that is much better – more of Jesus. This passage challenges us to examine our hearts and identify the things that – if we are really honest with ourselves – we have placed at the center of our lives. While we all have our personal struggles with sinful patterns that we need to continually work to remove from our lives, it is often good things which draw our devotion away from God the most. For some, it could be a job or the pursuit of professional success. For others, relationships or the desire for them becomes the central aim of life. Even hobbies and recreational activities can become a stumbling block to following Christ.
Matthew does not provide us with the ending to the rich young ruler’s story. I think that the author does this intentionally to leave the reader with these questions: “Am I living the life that shows the radical devotion and trust I claim to have in Jesus? Do I really believe that he is a greater treasure than any other thing I can experience in this life?”
Two great resources I’d recommend this week: