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.” (Matthew 19:21 ESV)
The Lord spoke these words to a rich young ruler who was seeking validation. He wanted reassurance from Jesus that his place in heaven was secure because he obeyed every commandment. Little did he know that he did not have to work so hard to receive a free gift.
We can assume this young ruler was educated because he knew God’s laws and he kept them. Even though he said, “All these I have kept,” there must have been an emptiness still lurking in his soul. Otherwise, he would not have asked, “What do I still lack?” All that wealth and education did not fill that empty spot in his heart. He had the courage to ask for honest feedback, but he was not prepared to receive it:
• Care for the poor with your possessions
• Follow Jesus
Like many of us, he enjoyed his comfort, making it easy for him to obey God’s commandments, especially the one about not coveting. He probably had many servants who waited on him day and night, and I wonder if he suffered any real hardship at all.
I think Jesus saw right through him and decided to teach him a little humble lesson. First he said, “If you would be perfect” meaning the young man still had some maturing to do. Then he said, “Sell what you possess and give to the poor.” In other words, have compassion and be others-centered instead of thinking about yourself. And finally, Jesus said, “Follow me.”
Why didn’t he say “follow me” first? I think he just mimicked the young ruler’s philosophy: complete all these tasks so you earn eternal life. Jesus addressed the core of his heart where pride and possessions were the main residents. Following God may have just been a religious transaction instead of a genuine relationship.
Jesus still invited him to come along, but the man was deflated after hearing the words sell and give. Now before we form any judgment about him, I wonder if Jesus addressed the core issues of our hearts in the same way? Did he ever ask you to change something internally? How did you respond? Did you obey or did you sulk for a while until you warmed up to the idea of obedience? Receiving honest feedback is not easy, but we must be ready to act on it if we desire live out the benefits of a Spirit-filled life.