Minimalism, A Rich Young Man, and Me
I love Luke’s story of The Rich Young Man. It is a relatively short passage, but it contains great insight. In this story, a young man approaches Jesus, asking how he might inherit eternal life. Jesus responds that the rich young man already knows the commandments. The young man acknowledges that he has observed the commandments all his life. Jesus then instructs this man to sell all that he has, give to the poor, and follow him. The young man went away sad because he had great wealth.
Our pastor spoke on this passage recently, and he pointed out that the rich young man valued his stuff more than he valued eternal life. He could not part with his wealth, not even to obtain eternal life. It’s frightening to think of the power stuff — over him and over us.
This story has particular significance to me at this point in my life. Jesus instructs the man to part with his stuff, selling it all. He further instructs him to give to the poor. His final instruction to the young man is to follow him.
As scary as it sounds, I think that Jesus is saying the same thing to me. It has been unfolding for a long time, but the message seemed to emerge as I began to type this blog post. I will explain:
In April, I graduated with my Master’s in Biblical Literature. I wrote my thesis on Jesus and his mission of Social Justice. I referred to Luke’s story of the Rich Young Man, discussing the importance of giving to the poor and not accumulating wealth for ourselves. I had not yet discovered minimalism.
About nine months ago, I stumbled upon a minimalist blog, and decided that I needed to pursue this lifestyle. I buy less, and I am in the process of selling, donating, or throwing away much of what I already have. I see how hard it is. Looking back over the last 18 months, I wonder if God has been preparing me for this realization, at this moment, as I type. Maybe my thesis topic and my discovery of the minimalist lifestyle are not random occurrences, but steps along a path. I believe that Jesus’ message to me is the same as it was to the rich young man: get rid of your stuff, give to the poor, and follow me.
Having written my thesis, and subsequently learning about the minimalist lifestyle, I can now see what this means, and it is a scary thing. Giving to the poor doesn’t scare me that much. I wholeheartedly believe in giving to the poor and caring for the most vulnerable members of society. I am even getting more comfortable with the idea of getting rid of my stuff. The thought of parting with some things, like my house, is still kind of scary for me. I’m making progress, though.
The last part, however, terrifies me. The very thought of following Jesus makes my stomach turn and my mouth go dry. It is soooo scary for me to even think about. It’s scary because I don’t really know what it means. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know what it entails. What if he leads me down a path that I hate? I’ll be stuck! That scares me more than anything: that Jesus will lead me down a path of pain and misery. That does not interest me at all.
As scary as it sounds, though, I’m not sure I have a choice. I don’t know where I stand on issues like God’s plan vs. our own free will. Once we commit to God’s plan, do we have the option to change our mind later? Will it be too late? I am concerned about all of these things as I consider following Jesus.
One thing is clear, though: I need some time to wrestle with these ideas, and to explore what following Jesus might look like for me. I don’t expect to know everything right away. It will take some time, and probably some prayer, for me to get a better understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.
It’s hard to be on the receiving end of that kind of challenge. I can really sympathize with the Rich Young Man, who went away sad. Jesus told him what he needed to do, but he wasn’t up to the task. Am I any different? In the end, will my response be the same as his? I can only hope that I will be strong enough, and brave enough, to not walk away.
If you have any thoughts on anything I have said, please, please leave comments below. I would love to hear other perspectives.