Jesus tells the rich young man to "Go, sell what you have, and give to [the poor] and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." (Mark 10:21) This instruction from Jesus always leaves me feeling somewhat uncomfortable. After all, the rich young man was not a bad guy. He followed the law and the prophets, and was actively seeking further knowledge about how to follow the Lord. I identify with that rich man a little too much.
I wonder if Jesus showed up today and told me the same thing, if I, too, would walk away sad. And yet, in some respects, through this Gospel, Jesus is doing just that. What am I willing to give up for Jesus? It is a thought-provoking question. I try to be generous with my money and my time, but could I do more? Absolutely.
I just finished reading "No Greater Love" by Mother Teresa (New World Library, 1997). In this handbook on how to live in the footsteps of our Lord, she encourages us to be generous to the point that it hurts. She also tells us that the poor have much to teach us. Even in their poverty, they are not bitter. They are happy with what they have. When something is given to them, they are eager to share with those who have less.
Yes, I can learn from that attitude. For even though I try to be unattached to my possessions, the truth is that I rely on them much more than I care to admit. I like my home, my comfy couch, and the soft mattress where I lay down my head. I take for granted that my refrigerator and my cabinets will be full of food. I have a computer and a television and a cell phone. It can be argued that modern American life requires most, if not all, of those things. But the same things that make our life easier and more enjoyable can also hold us hostage. They can keep us from loving the way Jesus loved. They can keep us preoccupied with the things of this world.
Jesus challenges us to keep our possessions in the proper perspective. People come first: the people in our families and the people on our streets. We should give whatever we can to the poor. We should give not only out of our excess, but rather to the point that we actually feel it. We should always put spending time with our children and our spouses over spending time with our high-tech toys. We should realize that our possessions will never bring us true happiness, and that the quest for additional possessions is a losing battle. There will always be something else to reach for. If we spend our time and our energy chasing after the things of this world, we can't expect to be building up treasure in heaven. What matters more? Like the rich young man, Jesus gives us much to think about. Will we walk away sad or will resolve to stay the course and follow the Lord where he invites us to go?