“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Remember the story of a young Jewish scholar who approaches Jesus and asks him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16, au. trans). This young man goes out of his way to explain to Jesus that he has been faithful to the commandments and has been materially blessed by God. Surely, his faithfulness and blessing are a sign that he is on the right path toward eternal life.

Jesus looks at this eager and oblivious young man with pity and says, “My son, there is still one thing that you are lacking. Sell everything you have and give it to those in poverty – then you will inherit eternal life.” I love what the next verse says about the young man’s response to Jesus, primarily because it’s so authentically human: “Weh the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matt. 19:22 NIV). This young man is saddened by Jesus’ request to give up everything he had for those who had not – and would this not be our response as well? I mean, why haven’t you sold everything and given it away? If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, this command seems straightforward and clear. Yet here both you and I sit, with savings accounts, abundant possessions, and a voice in our heads seeking to justify our disobedience.

Jesus’ response to the young man was not calling him to live an ascetic life – no, instead, it was calling him to embrace the path of death, with full faith that if he lives a life of generosity, he too will be provided for. After all, Jesus taught, “Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38a). I don’t believe that this is some sort of magical or even supernatural equation – instead, it’s a simple fact that when we are recklessly generous with our blessings, we will often attract “blessing” into our own lives. It may not feel fair to be required to give what we have earned or inherited to others, but equality usually doesn’t feel fair to those who are on top. When the mountains are lowered and the valleys are exalted, those on the mountaintop often feel as if they’re losing out – because they are. They are losing some privileged access. They are losing some decision-making power. They are losing a surplus of resources.

From “Filled to Be Emptied: The Path to Liberation for Privileged People” by Brandan Robertson – Westminster John Knox Press