“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven’ ” (Matt. 19:21).
This directive to a young man who asks Jesus what he must do to enter into eternal life raises legitimate questions for Catholics today. Do we really have to give away what we have to get into heaven? Then why are there faithful Catholics with houses, cars, sports memorabilia, and entertainment systems?
Jesus’ response to the young man is actually threefold: “keep the commandments . . . sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor . . . follow me” (19:17, 21).
Rather than a specific task that guarantees salvation, Jesus gives us the road map to heaven.
The lesson Jesus is trying to teach his followers is deeper and more complex than “throw away everything you have!”
Jesus demonstrates how easily “stuff” can get between us and God. If we possess too much, we can become consumed by what we have and forget about God. Jesus warns us to not be possessed by our possessions. The more we have, the harder it becomes to resist the temptation to obsess over worldly things, rather than keep our attention where it belongs: fixed on God.
Jesus is not asking us simply to declutter our lives or live in a minimalistic way for its own sake.
If we look at this story through that context, we can see that Jesus is not necessarily just calling us to reject all of the physical possessions we hold dear. He also wants us to share the other parts of our lives we try to possess: our time and talents.
It might not be necessary to give up all that we own to get into the kingdom of God, but it is absolutely necessary for every disciple to offer time, talent, and treasure for God’s glory here on earth. How do we do that? By using those possessions to serve the poor, the hungry, the immigrant, the “least of these” (25:35–36).
Jesus is not asking us simply to declutter our lives or live in a minimalistic way for its own sake. He does not want us to empty ourselves for some arbitrary reason. He tells us to empty ourselves out of love and a desire to enter into relationship with him.
In sharing our posessions with those on the margins, we fulfill the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (19:19). In using our time, talent, and treasure to encounter the less fortunate, we encounter Jesus himself.
So, while we don’t have to start packing away everything in our houses just yet, we’re not off the hook. Following Jesus isn’t easy, and true discipleship requires sacrifice.
No matter who we are or what our socioeconomic status might be, we are called to offer what we have for God’s glory and to make sure our pursuit of possessions does not prevent us from receiving the one real treasure: the gift of heaven and eternal life.
Image: Heinrich Hofmann, “Christ and the Rich Young Ruler”, 1889 via Wikimedia Commons