Did Jesus really say, “Sell all you have and give to the poor?” Yes, he did – to a rich man who, claiming to have kept all the other commands, asked Jesus how to get into heaven. When the man left, feeling sad at the thought of giving away all he had, Jesus commented to the disciples that it was impossible for rich men to enter the kingdom of heaven on their own – it would be more likely for a camel to squeeze through a needle’s eye.
The rich man who came to Jesus was challenged to love God more than his own stuff. That’s a challenge most of us in the West are not willing to take. God might not call all of us to sell everything we have – in fact, other passages of Scripture suggest we should manage our money wisely so that we can provide for our families – but we are all called to give generously, to “share with God’s people who are in need” (Romans 12:13, NIV).
Greed is one of our culture’s most prominent sins. It has been twisted to become a virtue in the secular world and even within the church, where money is sometimes viewed as a mark of God’s favor on a person of faith. But Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20, NIV). Philip Yancey, in The Jesus I Never Knew, points out several reasons why the poor are blessed, including their ability to recognize their dependence on God. Dependence on wealth will not get us to heaven, as Jesus told the rich man in Mark 10.
One way the rich are blessed, however, is in their ability to give – and being able to give is indeed a blessing (Proverbs 22:9, et. al.). One writer says that extraordinary gifts of God come for the purpose of filling extraordinary needs, and the Western world today has been given the extraordinary gift of wealth specifically so that we can help those who are living in extreme poverty. (I apologize for not attributing the idea – I have forgotten exactly where I read it.) We certainly have been wasting that gift!
If you are reading this post on a computer, you already have more than the rich man in Jesus’ story, even if you are considered middle class or poor in your own country. The current issue of A Common Place, the Mennonite Central Committee’s magazine, features the organization’s Food for All program. According to MCC, $38 can feed a seven-person family in Kenya for a month, while $20 can provide a school year’s lunches for a student in Zimbabwe. My family can spend that much on one dinner out!
Have you been using your financial gifts from God to help those in need? I know I could afford to be more generous.
Thanks to Diana at damascusmoments for suggesting this passage for my series on Scripture we like to ignore. If you have any suggestions for other verses Christians tend to overlook or underemphasize, please let me know.