“What do I need to do to get eternal life?” the rich man asked.
The question itself was proof that the man didn’t understand grace. And Jesus said, “Brother, you know the commandments, right?”
“Indeed I do,” replied the man, “and I follow them religiously.”
So Jesus, realizing that there was something else going on with this guy, went a bit deeper. “Let’s see what exactly is in charge of his life,” he thought. To the man he said, “Okay, my friend, here’s all you have to do now. Go and sell all your stuff and then give the money away to people who need it. Then come and follow me.”
The rich man’s jaw dropped, his eyes opened wide as he stared in stunned disbelief at Jesus. And then he just turned away and walked off, because he could think of nothing to say. Whatever it was that was in charge of his life, it sure wasn’t him. It sure wasn’t God. Truth be told, it was his wealth.
In that moment, he realized that his wealth controlled him. The thought of giving it all away immobilized him. Any power he had ever had, he had given up to his material possessions, and that idea hurt him deeply. Before his encounter with Jesus, he was living under the illusion that he was in charge of his own life. Afterwards, he understood that he still had a lot of work to do.
Before meeting Jesus, he bought into the myth that he was worth something at all because he was worth something on his balance sheet. Through his challenge to generosity, Jesus was trying to teach him that people aren’t defined by wealth, but by the unconditional love of God. It seems it was a difficult lesson for the man to learn.
Somehow, it doesn’t seem to have gotten any easier.