The story of the rich man
There’s a story in the Bible about a rich man who asks Jesus how to get eternal life. Jesus basically tells him to follow the law and be a decent human being. The man responds, I’ve already done all that. What now?
Jesus says, sell everything you have and give it all to the poor. Then, come follow me.
Disappointed by this answer, the man walks away.
Every person I’ve heard talk about this passage has taught about the dangers of greed or idolatry. Those are certainly important themes and probably the main morals of the story. But what if there’s more going on?
I wonder what the nameless rich man was thinking when Jesus told him to sell all his possessions. What was he so sad about? Was it really about the things?
Maybe. Maybe he really loved the $300 vase he bought last year to hold the flowers he keeps forgetting to buy. Maybe he can’t live without the $800 massage chair he bought to loosen up his muscles because his $80/hour personal trainer keeps putting him through brutal workouts.
But I think there was something much harder to let go of than his possessions. More than his things, Jesus was asking him to give up an identity.
That name you've made for yourself—the reputation you have garnered as a rich, young, ambitious, put-together ruler—I want you to give it up to follow me. To become a humble nomad. A nobody.
It’s not just that this man had it all. It’s that he had it all, and other people knew it. Maybe that was what he couldn’t walk away from. The man's wealth was familiar. People likely admired it. It probably gave him a sense of security. He knew how to be the rich man.
But who was he if he wasn't the man with money? He probably thought he would be much less. Jesus was inviting him to see he was so much more.
Clinging to the identity he had constructed for himself, the man got what he wanted but missed what he was truly seeking.
Jesus didn't say follow me, then sell all your things. He said sell all your things, then follow me. Give up who you thought you were to find who you are in me. At my feet, you will find the joy you seek.
Why was the man who had it all asking an itinerant Rabbi how to live life to the fullest? Maybe he realized he didn’t have it all.