The rich young ruler doesn't have many friends. Throughout the years, he's made a lot of enemies.
We know the dude walked away sad: maybe he embraced Jesus' challenge and changed his life...maybe he rejected the teaching. Either way, he asks a question and Jesus gives a response that has been messing with people for centuries.
When it comes to spirituality, the guy is concerned about one thing--"eternal life."
Matthew 19:16, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?"
The answer Jesus gives the young-rich-guy-with-power has nothing to do with eternal life.
Jesus says, "If you with to enter into life, keep the commandments."
After a brief dialogue about rethinking the commandments, Jesus says, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
Jesus doesn't seem to be too concerned with the original question about "eternal life".
He gives all of his attention and time to "this life".
This is what bugs people. Actually, it can tick them off.
The easist thing to do is to spiritualize the passage. That is, make it all about the heart being right with God. And this way, we can keep "our stuff" out of it.
The other thing to do is to water down the words of Jesus to only address priorities. Again, this way we can keep our stuff out of it.
I don't think the words to "sell everything" are a direct command for everybody, but I also don't want to dismiss the fact that Jesus is pretty passionate about speaking challenging words into cultures of materialism and greed.
But here's where I think we really miss the point of christianity. Sometimes we are too concerned about "eternal life" and not as tuned in to the fact that Jesus is seriously invested in what happens in this life. Our image of God is that we want him to prepare a great place when this world is over, but we want ultimate control over our stuff and time while on this world. This doesn't seem to line up with the story of Jesus in the NT.
Case and point--I think we can talk about heaven easier than we can talk about the activity of God in the here and now.
I taught three classes at Harding Uplift yesterday. I had a few hundred in the first class. I couple of hundred in the second and about a hundred in the third. I began each class with this statement, "I need two people to raise their hands." Immediately, like 20 hands go up before I even told them why I wanted volunteers. Then I said, "I need two people to share with me how God has worked in your life this week at Uplift." Every hand went down and everyone was trying to avoid eye contact with me in fear that I was going to call on them.
I simply wanted to hear testimonies. It wasn't meant as a test.
And...the kids couldn't do it. I had one raise their hand in the first class. After a long period of silence I had two raise their hands in the second class and I finally had one in the third class.
Now, do these kids love Jesus? Absolutely. They were great kids who had a hunger for Jesus. It was evident. But, when it came to articulating what God was doing in their lives, they didn't know how to talk about it.
I've received the same silence with adults both in worship services and in small group settings.
Why is this? I don't know how well we are doing at teaching people how to speak about God in everyday life. When it comes to articulating the activity and movement of God in the here and now, I'm afraid we are often mute on God. We can quickly go the end of times and talk to people about what they will miss if they don't prepare for eternity (and don't get me wrong, this is important) but I think there are people all around us who are eager to experience the abundant life right here...on this earth...where they are walking and sleeping today. I think one of the greatest challenges for Jesus-leaders today is to empower people to speak about God in everyday life. How do we teach this? How do we model this?