You may have noticed the popular trend towards a type of Christian humanitarianism: you know, sell your possessions, give to the poor, etc…
Noble generosity, no doubt! Impressive obedience, for sure!
But perhaps, our humanitarianism is fueled by a misreading of Scripture.
Take, for example, the story of the rich young ruler. One of the Top Ten Inspiration Texts for Christian humanitarians. Maybe you know the story in Luke 18: 18 – 34. Basically, a rich young ruler asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
(Notice, the guy’s totally focused on what he can do to gain a gift that is only distributed out of God’s generous grace.)
The guy claims to keep all of the commandments. Impressive, but he’s still not able to save himself. So, to make the matter obvious, Jesus points out that the one thing he lacks is to “sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
(This is where we humanitarians highlight Jesus’ command, scribble notes in the margin, and start selling our gadgets on ebay. Perhaps we’d profit from reading further and closer…)
Turns out, the guy can’t do what Jesus asks; he’s too rich.
Jesus points out that no rich guy can enter the kingdom of heaven.
And we’re all rich. (In some form or fashion.)
So, alarmed and helpless, I ask with Peter, “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus refocuses our gaze: “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
Oh, so we cannot sell everything and distribute to the poor in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus said it best: it is impossible.
You’ve gotta read the whole passage for yourself, but it seems to me that although Jesus kindly points out that, yes, we will be rewarded and recompensed for any sacrifices we do make, He is quite clear that He is the one – He is the rich young ruler – who will sell everything for us and distribute gifts to the poor.
He even wraps up the scenario with an explanation of how he will sell everything to purchase our inheritance: “See, the Son of Man will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon, And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”
He is the one will purchase the inheritance of eternal life.
With God, this is possible.
Once again, I find that the Scriptures are so rarely about us, and so often about Jesus. Hallelujah.
So, I officially cut and paste this passage of Scripture from my “How to Convince People to Sell Everything They Have and Give to the Poor” folder into my “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty and Generous and Wonderful that He Should Love a Tight-Fisted Legalistic Sinner Like Me” folder.
And a ruler 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 commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'”And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”Â But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said,Â “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.