Jesus told the rich young ruler: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21). He didn’t really mean that, did He? There must be some hidden meaning . Many preachers and teachers have expounded their ideas of what that hidden meaning might be.
Let me begin by saying that it appears quite plain that Jesus literally meant that the rich young ruler needed to do exactly what He said. That was Jesus’ message to this particular person in that particular time and place. The gospels also record numerous instances where Jesus warned that the temple, Jerusalem and the whole Jewish kingdom would be destroyed. What good would earthly possessions in that region be then?
Those who united with the followers of Jesus after the day of Pentecost got the message: “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44-45). “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common” (Acts 4:32).
They believed the Lord’s warnings about the destruction of Jerusalem and they were preparing for the time when they would need to flee. Josephus tells us that there were no Christians left in Jerusalem when the Roman siege began.
That was then, this is now. Does Jesus still want us to sell everything we have and give to the poor? It may be that there are individuals today to whom He is saying this, but I believe His plan for most of us is quite different. Nevertheless, the Bible makes it plain that the accumulation of wealth should not be our primary goal in life. “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24). Do we want to be so attached to material possessions that this warning of Jesus applies to us?
“But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1Timothy 6:9-10) “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (verse 17).
Perhaps the area that is most in need of change is our attitude towards those who are poor. Do we tend to blame them for their poverty? After all, often they appear capable of working, yet very often are idle. and when they do have money, they spend it quickly on the wrong things. Do we understand the hopelessness and futility that these people are feeling? They do not have a network of family and friends to help them find good jobs, help them deal with banks, government agencies or even find the education and health care that they need. When you have all that and take it for granted, it is difficult to understand those who are not even aware such a thing is possible.
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? (James 2:1-6)