Lots of assumptions have been made about this statement by Jesus. Many have assumed that this means that in order to follow Jesus, one must sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor. As if becoming poor is a prerequisite for following Jesus.
“There is one thing you lack: Go home, sell whatever you have and give to the poor; and you will have your treasure in the spiritual realm – then come and follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
Can we buy or sell our way into heaven?
This would be compared to trying to buy one's way into God's graces. As if we could purchase a ticket into the spiritual realm by giving away all of our stuff.
Others have assumed practically the opposite. They want to use Jesus in order to become wealthy. Many have taught their congregations that we should pray to Jesus for wealth and success.
This "gospel" of getting rich in the name of Jesus has become the backbone of numerous evangelical teachings in recent years. And many of these evangelical teachers have themselves become rich through donation schemes by proclaiming that we should pray to Jesus for wealth and success.
Some of them have undertaken a variety of strategies to do this. Some evangelicals have offered to pray for those who send them letters (ahem, don't forget the donation). So people will send in their prayer requests - whether it be health or wealth - and the evangelicals will supposedly pray for them - as though God will hear the evangelical's prayer before He will hear the person's own prayer.
These kinds of scams are taking place in the name of Jesus. The assumption is that Jesus is some kind of waiter or servant - someone who will deliver whatever they need, whether it is wealth or health or winning that football game or becoming a business success.
Whether it is trying to buy our way into the spiritual realm by giving away all of our stuff or trying to use Jesus or God to gain temporary wealth here in the physical world - these are contrary to Jesus' teachings.
Jesus' teachings were simple:
"The most important of all the instructions is, ‘Hear O Israel – the LORD our God is our only Lord – and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ – this is the most important instruction." (Mark 12:39-30)
"Not everyone who says to me, ‘lord, lord,’ shall enter the sanctuary of the spiritual realm – only one who does what pleases my LORD in the spiritual realm." (Matt. 7:21)
"For whoever does what pleases my LORD in the spiritual realm is my brother, sister and mother." (Matt. 12:50)These illustrate the focus of Jesus' teachings: He wanted us to come to know, love and serve the Supreme Being.
So why did Jesus ask this young man to sell all his possessions?
Because Jesus knew the young man was attached to his possessions. Yes, he was also proud that he had followed all the commandments. So Jesus tested him. Here is how the whole conversation went:
Later he was traveling on the road and someone ran towards him and kneeled in front of him and asked him, “Honorable teacher, what should I do in order to receive eternal life?” Jesus responded to him, “Why do you call me honorable? No one but God alone deserves honor. You know the commandments – ‘do not commit adultery; do not kill; do not steal; do not lie; do not defraud; honor your father and mother.’” He replied, “Teacher, I have kept all these things since I was young.” Jesus looked at him lovingly and said to him, “There is one thing you lack: Go home, sell whatever you have and give to the poor; and you will have your treasure in the spiritual realm – then come and follow me.” He was disappointed with this answer and went away saddened, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)It is important to understand that Jesus' instruction was specific to this young man, along with the time and situation. Jesus' instruction provided a challenge to the young man. Was spiritual life - and following Jesus - important enough for the young man to give up his wealth?
We find out that it was not. His wealth was more important to him.
Was this a test?
This was a unique test specific to the young man. Each of us is constantly being tested within the physical world in a unique way. Why? For those who are seeking God, we are constantly being challenged about our seriousness. Are we acting spiritual to impress others, or are we serious about returning home to our relationship with the Supreme Being?
This particular test was specific to this young man. But in general, challenges will occur repeatedly for someone who begins the process of approaching God with the goal of having a relationship with Him.
And rightly so. Just consider the position of the Supreme Being. Each of us has rejected Him in the past. Each of us became self-centered. And has rejected our loving service relationship with God. This is why we were escorted out of the spiritual realm and deposited into the physical world by taking on a physical body.
So the question now is, are we ready to return home to Him? Are we ready to give up our self-centered chase for fleeting pleasure and return to our loving service relationship with Him?
Surely, we say yes! But are we really ready? How we respond to challenges - such as that posed by Jesus - will give us our answer.
Should we fail challenges like these - and not be prepared to give up those things we are attached to in order to give our lives to the Supreme Being - then we can know for ourselves that we need more work. We need to make more changes before we are truly ready to return to Him.
What is the purpose of these tests?
God doesn't have to test us to know whether we are ready or not. The Supreme Being can see into our hearts. He knows whether we are ready or not.
Rather, these tests are for us. They indicate to us where we stand.
So is there any hope for those of us who repeatedly fail the tests being presented to us?
Jesus provided the answer when his disciples asked him practically the same question:
“With humans, it’s impossible. But not with God: Because with God, everything is possible.” (Mark 10:27)Yes, we should work to have a change of heart and become dedicated to God. But ultimately, each of us is dependent upon the mercy of the Supreme Being. Should we have a sincere desire to return to Him, He will be there to help us.
This is the ultimate test - humbly working towards changing our hearts while becoming dependent upon God.