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Editor's note: Bread Blog is running a year-long series exploring passages from The Poverty & Justice Bible published by the American Bible Society (Contemporary English Version). The intent is a theological exploration at the intersection of social justice and religion. The blog posts will be written by members of the church relations staff at Bread for the World.
An important man asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good. You know the commandments: ‘Be faithful in marriage. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not tell lies about others. Respect your father and mother.’” He told Jesus, “I have obeyed all these commandments since I was a young man.” When Jesus heard this, he said, “There is one more thing you still need to do. Go and sell everything you own! Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower.” When the man heard this he was sad, because he was very rich. Jesus saw how sad the man was. So he said, “It’s terribly hard for rich people to get into God’s kingdom! In fact, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom.” (Luke 18: 18-25)
By Rev. Nancy Neal
As a person without “great riches,” it is quite easy for me to just assume rich people aren’t getting into heaven and this passage doesn’t apply to me. But looking deeper at the exchange between Jesus and the important man, it occurs to me that the passage is really about answering the invitation to follow Christ. The important man seems to recognize that Jesus is Lord—that it is through Jesus that eternal life comes, and he has spent his adult life following the commandments. And yet, upon the invitation to follow Christ, he walks away sadly.
The invitation comes with a commitment the important man is unwilling to make—to sell his belongings and give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. And while I don’t literally think that Jesus is calling all of us to sell our belongings, give the money to the poor, and hit the road, I do think our invitation requires that we give up something. That cost is different for each of us.
My invitation to follow Christ came in a call to ministry. Believe me, it was not an easy thing to say yes to. My commitment required that I give up false ideas about who I am and see myself through God’s eyes. I had to dig deep and see myself as I truly am—all the lumps, bumps, bruises, mean streaks, and ugly attitudes along with all the generosity and beauty and gentleness and love I have to give.
By seeing myself as God sees me—with all of God’s love and grace, I can’t help but see the world through those same eyes. And while I don’t feel called to sell all of my belongings and give the money to the poor, I do feel called to work to end hunger in the U.S. and around the world.
Christ’s invitation is extended to each of us. And saying yes to that invitation requires a commitment that is significant. It requires letting go of something that we hold tightly to, and it asks us to love the world by addressing the needs of those who are lacking—whether it’s food, housing, education, clean water, kind words, the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What are you holding tightly?
Rev. Nancy Neal is deputy director of church relations at Bread for the World.
My commitment required that I give up false ideas about who I am and see myself through God’s eyes.
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