“Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, ‘You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.’ But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.”
Mark 10:21, 22 (Common English Bible)
The process of positive change begins with us. I heard these words again several weeks before returning to the Holy Land with a church group. Two doctors, colleagues in practice, provided me with a comprehensive health check. Blood labs, full body scan, cognitive tests and a general physical exam found elevated blood sugar and more body fat than is optimal. The pathway forward included an “induction diet” for the first six weeks. Absolutely no grain, rice, potato, or pasta. Additionally, no tropical fruit such as bananas or citrus and no desserts. Then, one of the doctors said that if he could banish two words spoken by his patients, they would be, “I’ll try.” Each patient makes one of two decisions: they will or they will not. When I left his office, I would answer one or the other. Each of the eight days in Israel, only one option for lunch – a choice of sandwiches and French fries. Bread, produced from grain, and potato. With an apple in hand, I simply walked away from the group for lunch.
In this story from Mark’s Gospel, a man approaches Jesus with a question, “What must I do to obtain eternal life?” The man wants to know what he must do to qualify for the Christian life. Together, they establish that the man knew the Bible and kept the commandments. According to many standards, the man is a deeply religious person. That is important to concede lest we miss the full force of the story. Jesus follows, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” Jesus is not teaching a lesson on financial stewardship, not directly. Jesus is not advocating that the wealthy carry a greater responsibility for the poor. The real issue here is one of commitment. Jesus is asking if the man is totally committed to God, is prepared to make a total engagement of his life with Jesus Christ.
The man’s answer is no. The man knew the Bible. The man lived a moral life. He obeyed all the commandments. Yet, the man failed to make a total commitment to Jesus. To be a profoundly religious person, it seems, has little to do with biblical knowledge or living a moral life. If that were the case, then there is no way that King David, Peter, or Paul were “religious.” David committed adultery. Peter was impulsive. Paul self-identified, “I’m a miserable human being. (Romans 7:24).” All capable of disloyalties. Each life colored with moral ambiguity. Yet, with all their flaws, each are remembered as profoundly religious persons. That is because they were deeply committed to God. Biblical faith has little concern with one’s mastery of the Bible. Biblical faith cares little with high moral attainment. Biblical faith is concerned with our ultimate allegiance. We will follow Jesus totally or we will not.
Commitment is a choice of direction. Jesus Christ is Lord and we rearrange all of our life around the values of Jesus or we will not. The great challenge to the Church has never been those who are opposed to religion. The great challenge to the Church are those who say they believe but do not care enough to weave their life with the life of Christ without reservation. Commitment to Christ is not a highly charged emotional experience or a life of strict moral discipline. Rather, commitment means that we chose our values, manage our financial resources, and center each day on honoring Jesus’ claim upon us. Jesus Christ is the creative center of all that we do and think. The process of positive change begins with us. “I’ll try”, is insufficient. We will or we will not make Jesus Christ the final ground for every decision we make.