And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” — Mark 10:21
One small detail in the famous story of the rich young man is worth remarking on: Jesus asks him to give his money to the poor. One might think that Christ missed a great opportunity here. An opportunity came along for him him to really fill the Messianic coffers and get this Kingdom of God mission a little more publicity and resources. The giving pie charts at the next APCM could have looked much more encouraging, had our Lord thought to tell him, ‘Go, sell all that you have and give it to me.’ He may still have refused, but at least they might have had something to gain from it: money for the church roof, or a youth worker, or nicer biscuits after services as a change from all that bread and fish.
Why doesn’t Jesus want his money? There might be several reasons. Jesus isn’t greedy, for a start. He might not want the young man (or anyone else, for that matter) to think they can buy their way into the Kingdom with a large donation, and start calling the shots. Christ can’t be bought, and the fact that he never asks for money for himself shows that the accusation wouldn’t even stick.
Whatever the reasons, there is one wonderful thing that the rich, gifted, and privileged may take from this (there has to be some good news for them): Jesus doesn’t want any of that, he wants you. No doubt a lot of people wanted this rich young man’s time or attention. Perhaps many wanted to bend his ear, and get him on side for one thing or another, and get some of his money spent on their causes. Not Jesus, who couldn’t care less about having money. Whether or not we are rich, many of us have been or will at some point find ourselves in positions where we feel as though everyone wants us to do something for them. Christ does not approach us in the same way. The one thing that many others might have wanted to get out of him is the one thing that Jesus says he has no interest in taking. God is no gold digger, and if I had to take a guess, Christ would never have used that odious phrase, ‘human resources’, to refer to his creatures, servants, followers, and friends (both clergy and laity), as though they were fundamentally in the same sort of category as say, crude oil, or a large turkey farm. Humans are not a type of resource, we are not resources at all. In an era of transactional relationships in the world around us, and pastoral burnout inside the church, I think it is vital (in the sense of necessary for life) for us to remember this: Christ was never thinking about what he could get out of you when he called you, he was not thinking about what you could offer. If he were, surely he would have called more useful people than us, and surely he would have asked this guy to write a big fat cheque for the kingdom.
Christ looked at this young man and loved him, and so asked him to come and follow: ‘Come and be poor with me. I don’t want your money, I just want you.’ The command to sell all he has is not simply a diagnostic question to prove that he loved money more than God, though it does that job nicely. It is a genuine demonstration of the purity of Christ’s love for this man (which is unaffected by his wealth and status), and an invitation to this man to purify his love for God, by detaching himself from the distraction of money. Christ’s call is always an expression of his love.