Sunday morning we discussed a series of brief stories found in Luke 18, and one of those stories was about Jesus and a rich ruler (also in Mark 10).
The story begins with the ruler asking Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” I believe the ruler’s question was sincere, unlike most questions aimed at Jesus. The ruler did not carefully construct this to trap Jesus into saying something controversial. The Mark account says the man "ran up to him (Jesus) and fell on his knees before him.” That sounds honest.
I picture the man holding his open checkbook and pen, the check already signed, ready to fill in the amount. He was willing to support Jesus’s ministry, or sponsor a wing on the children’s hospital, or give to the temple fund, or whatever else Jesus asked.
After quizzing the man about his obedient lifestyle, Jesus surprised him with this: “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, then follow me.”
Apparently, this was the last thing the man wanted to hear.
How could he possibly give it all away to the poor? Who would he be if he gave it all away? Who would listen to him if he weren’t rich? How could he do great and mighty things for the kingdom if he was broke? Where would his weight and significance come from? (I asked myself similar questions just a few years ago when my 12-year stint in city government ended. Who will listen to me now?)
Hearing Jesus’ expectations made the ruler sad. He had started the conversation with big hopes of doing something grand, but now, all he could do was walk away.
One of the mysteries of this story is why Jesus asked the ruler to give it all away, since it wasn’t something he asked regularly. One classic example when he didn’t ask was talking to Zacchaeus, whose riches came from cheating people. It would have made sense for Jesus to ask Zacchaeus to give all his ill-gotten gains to the poor, but he didn’t. There is no indication the ruler got his money dishonestly, so why did Jesus let Zacchaeus keep his money but wanted the ruler to give his away?
For me, money wouldn’t be the hardest thing to give up. No, the hardest for me would be independence and creativity. I am stingy with my time and attention. Engaging a problem and devoting time to solving it is often more costly to me than money. I’d rather write a check than invest the time - not because I am lazy, but because I don’t want to displace my own projects. I put a lot of mental energy into everything I do, and I resent having to accommodate someone else’s Ill-thought plans.
If I put myself in the story from Luke 18, I can imagine Jesus asking me to drop all my important projects and follow his tight schedule from now on. It would be hard to keep from walking away, like the ruler in the Bible story.
However, is that really how I think of Jesus? Do I believe he wants to take away my favorite stuff to prove my loyalty? That is not an encouraging or attractive picture of God: “Hello, I want all your best and favorite stuff.” Is that the God we follow?
I think what God really wants is our heart. He has enough stuff already. He wants us to give him our heart, and the path to our heart is our passions … those things that make us come alive and fill us with joy.
As for me, I am most passionate about teaching and writing, and I don’t know how to do either of them well without ample room for independence and creativity. Maybe you are passionate about music, sports, or career advancement. The ruler was most passionate about his great wealth. Most of us will fight to defend our greatest passions.
However, we have the most to offer the kingdom of God when we give away the very things we are most passionate about. God doesn’t ask for our passions because they’re bad or because they are distractions; after all, he gave them to us in the first place. When we give away our passions - when we talk about the things we are most passionate about, and share them with other people - the grace of God will leak out of our lives. We can change the world.
The reason Jesus asked the ruler to give away all of his money was to get the man’s heart. The ruler could have written a check and walked away feeling fulfilled, yet never changing his heart at all. Not good enough! God had given him lots of money, and now Jesus wanted him to redirect that toward the kingdom. Jesus wanted him to give away his passions to God.
Living out our passions for God is more than being the best we can be, more than aiming high and shooting for the stars, and more than being authentic and true. It means giving ourselves away, especially to those who cannot repay. For me, it often means embracing interruptions and accepting the inevitable changes that accompany life of loving other people.
DISCUSSION: I’ll be honest. While the idea of giving away our passions is not a new idea for me, applying it to the Luke 18 story is new. I’ve already written more than I understand. What are your thoughts?
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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