Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” He said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” Mark 10:21
“To avoid all misunderstandings, Jesus has to create a situation in which there can be no retreat, an irrevocable situation. At the same time it must be made clear to him that this is in no sense a fulfilment of his past life. So he bids him embrace voluntary poverty. This is the “existential,” pastoral side of the question, and its aim is to enable the young man to reach a final understanding of the true way of obedience. It springs from Jesus’ love for the young man, and it represents the only link between the old life and the new. But it must be noted that the link is not identical with the new life itself; it is not even the first step in the right direction, though as an act of obedience it is the essential preliminary.
First the young man must go and sell all that he has and give to the poor, and then come and follow. Discipleship is the end, voluntary poverty the means… When the young man asks, “What lack I yet?” Jesus rejoins: “If thou wouldest be perfect…” At first sight it would seem that Jesus is thinking in terms of an addition to the young man’s previous life. But it is an addition which requires the abandonment of every previous attachment. Until now perfection had always eluded his grasp. Both his understanding and his practice of the commandment had been at fault. Only now, by following Christ, can he understand and practise it aright, and only now because it is Jesus Christ who calls him. In the moment he takes up the young man’s question, Jesus wrenches it from him. He had asked the way to eternal life: Jesus answers: “I call thee, and that is all.”
The answer to the young man’s problem is – Jesus Christ. He had hoped to hear the word of the good master, but he now perceives that this word is the Man to whom he had addressed his question. He stands face to face with Jesus, the Son of God: it is the ultimate encounter. It is now only a question of yes or no, of obedience or disobedience.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) in Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan, 1979) 83-84. This is another one of my top ten books of all time. I found the PDF online, so you can click to read it.
Four statements from Bonhoeffer struck me in re-reading chapters of this classic work. The first one shows us the place Jesus guided the wealthy person: “To avoid all misunderstandings, Jesus has to create a situation in which there can be no retreat, an irrevocable situation.” Jesus wants the rich man to make a choice.
The second statement points the way: “Discipleship is the end, voluntary poverty the means.” Lest someone mistake that for acts of the law associated with earning salvation (which Bonhoeffer addresses previously in the text), he adds this third and related profound idea: “But it is an addition which requires the abandonment of every previous attachment.”
Following Jesus is not about adding Jesus to everything else you have. It’s about choosing Him instead of everything else you have. Thus, the call of Jesus to voluntary poverty is a call to let go of all previous attachments. Most people live like they think they can serve God and money and their bank accounts reveal where they have placed their trust.
As an aside, I am weary of hearing such people say that “But Abraham had wealth and Barnabas owned land.” Abraham was called to leave behind everything and let God make him into a nation. Barnabas sold his asset (unthinkable in antiquity) gave the money to the apostles and got in the game of ministry rather than spectating and living off his wealth.
With this call of Jesus and exposition from Bonhoeffer, readers are faced with a decision. That’s the fourth statement that stands out: “It is now only a question of yes or no, of obedience or disobedience.” If you are reading this, do not retreat. Choose voluntary poverty, that is to say, let go of every previous attachment and obey. Follow Jesus.
Again, this is not about cashing out to earn salvation. It is about exchanging an attractive fake idol for the one true God by not letting money stay with us. Only when we follow Jesus rather than money, can generosity even become a possibility in our lives. No wonder Jesus says it is hard, but not impossible for the rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven!Read more