Me Versus We: Part 3, Economy, Not Sacrifice

We've all heard the story of the Rich Young Ruler:
Mark 10.17-22
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
All of us, I'm assuming, have been personally dismayed by this story. Who would even dare to obey the command "sell everything"?

Now, I don't want to take the edge off of this story. Jesus is making a radical demand. But again, to the point of this series, I think we miss Jesus' point by focusing on "me" rather than "we."

Specifically, when we read the story of the Rich Young Ruler we quickly ask ourselves, "If I were to sell everything, how would I take care of myself? Wouldn't I become dependent upon the charity of others? And how would that help anything if I became poor?"

Those are reasonable questions. And they arise because we're imagining that the command "sell everything" is directed toward a lone individual being asked to make a radical sacrifice. But that's not what Jesus is imagining. Jesus isn't pointing to "me," he's pointing to "we." The story continues:
Mark 10.28-30
Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands..." 
Jesus isn't calling for a sacrifice. He's calling for an economy.

If it's just "me," the command "sell everything" leaves me impoverished. But if the command "sell everything" is directed at "we," then I'm not impoverished, I've entered an economy of sharing and gifts.

When we think in terms of "me" we're bullied by scarcity. What's going to happen when I have nothing? By contrast, when we think in terms of "we" we find ourselves surrounded by abundance. That's Jesus' message to Peter: In the kingdom you're not going to be left destitute. You're going to receive a hundredfold "houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands."

To be clear, Jesus is still making a radical demand. But the demand is placed upon the community. It makes no sense for one person to sell everything to find himself or herself homeless and knocking on doors for a meal. An isolated act of sacrifice doesn't create the economy of the kingdom. To be sure, that sacrifice would be heroic, but it doesn't create the kingdom. Yes, there are sacrifices to be made, but they are sacrifices being made by the community as a whole so that no one is left destitute and that all are cared for (see, again, Acts 2 and 4).

The goal, as Jesus points out to Peter, isn't poverty, but an economy of abundance.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply