“And a ruler asked him, ‘Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’…And when Jesus heard it he said, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ But when he heard this he became sad for he was very rich” Luke 18: 18 – 24)
Here is a trick question: Which is the hardest part of the demand Jesus made of the rich ruler: To “sell all that you have and distribute to the poor” or “come, and follow me”? The ruler was mistaken in thinking it was the first. He may have been saddened by being told to sell and give all he had, but had he understood it, he would have been terrified by the command to “follow me”. Why? Because of where Jesus was going.
Just a few chapters before this event, after explaining to his disciples that “the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised”, we read that “when the days drew near for him to be lifted up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem”(9:51, emphasis added). Since that time he had been intentionally and inexorably aimed toward Jerusalem and the Cross. There he would give more than his possessions; he would give himself. To follow Jesus meant to follow him to that Cross where life itself was given up in sacrificial love.
Luke emphasizes this connection between “Follow me” and the travelling to the Cross by immediately following the story of the rich ruler with these words:
“And taking the twelve, he said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem…and he will be …mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon, they will scourge him and kill him ,and on the third day he will rise”(vv31-33).
Even more clearly, Jesus had earlier told his disciples , “if any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”(9:23, emphasis added).
If, then, following Jesus is the more demanding command, why order the rich man sell and give? Because this was the concrete incarnate way this particular man was to follow Jesus; it was his particular cross. Paul says of the meaning of the Cross:
“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich”(II Cor. 8:9)
Isn’t that what he asked of this man? Isn’t that what he asks of us, each in our own way? And since comparative material wellbeing is the lot of most of us, will not our cross of sacrificial love involve, in part, sacrificial giving to the poor as well?
The call to the ruler and to us is clear. The issue is how we will receive it. He went away saddened. Will we? Before we do, we better consider that the call to “follow me” came in answer to the question, “What must I do to have eternal life?”. Jesus says the way of his cross is the way to life. He never mentioned the cross without also mentioning the resurrection on the other side of it: ex. “and be killed and on the third day be raised”. And, immediately after telling his disciples they must take up their cross daily, he said, “whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it”(9:24).
Jesus said,” I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly” and he said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” The two cannot be separated. Do you believe it?
I believe , O Lord, help thou my unbelief (Mk 9:24)
Fred Durham is the founder and president of Alighieri Press. He also serves as an author, speaker and editor for the ministry.