Mark 10 tells a sad story of a rich young man who could not leave his possessions behind in order to follow Jesus. Any fair reading of this story leads us to wonder what might have happened if he could have answered differently. It is apparent that he had qualities Jesus was seeking, perhaps the qualities that would have made him a key follower and eventually a key leader in the Christian movement. It is clear that Jesus cared for him. One translations says of Jesus that his “heart warmed towards him” (Mark 10:21 JBP). All of which makes it even sadder to note that we don’t even know the name of this potential disciple. He could have become a Peter, James, John, or Andrew; but instead he walks away in silence, nameless, and remembered only for his inability to follow Jesus.
How might this nameless man have responded to Jesus when Jesus challenged him to sell all of his possessions, to give them away, and to come and follow along as a disciple? What if the young man had said, “You got me, Jesus. I have been trying so hard to keep all of the commandments of Moses, but I have overlooked my obsession with possessions. Will you help me overcome this?” I have to believe that Jesus would have welcomed the young man to come along and learn by following. Or what if the young man had said, “I always thought that my possessions were a sign of God’s blessing and approval. Help me understand, Lord.” Again, I would see Jesus embracing him like he did tax collectors and sinners. If only the young man could have admitted his obsession with his possessions and responded differently to Jesus. Perhaps he would have become a Lead Follower of Jesus.
Our Possessions Can Possess Us
What about us? Do we realize how easily our possessions can possess us? It is insidious, really. We get caught in a vicious cycle of wants that become needs and rights that become demands. What once was a nice little splurge or a bonus or an unnecessary but enjoyable option can become an essential, or something we “must have.” I notice how many “options” on our cars have become “standard” expectations. The first time I owned a car with variable speed windshield wipers, it seemed like an extravagance. Now it seems like I have to have that option--no longer as an option or a nice extra, but as an expectation. Some writers have called this “lifestyle creep” as a way of describing the reality that our expenses seem always to rise to the level of our income (or beyond).
Many couples struggling with unhappy marriages make a statement similar to this: “When we were first married, we were so happy, even though we had almost nothing. It seemed like we had to work together and rely on each other just to get by, but it was fun. Now we are so busy with the big house or the bills or the vacation place, that we both work extra hours to make more money for our lifestyle. We’ve lost that sense of joy.” What has happened? Possessions, lifestyle, and “success” have become enslaving. Somehow possessions that seemed so nice become a dominating influence in our lives, and we are unsatisfied. We have to have a bigger one, a better one, a nicer one, a newer one. It is a never-ending process of greed. Many have noted that, “Enough is always just a little bit more.”
Even good things--like the books in my study--can become an obsession. I realized a few years ago that my own books had become a trophy case of my proven literacy rather than a resource to help my ministry and my discipleship. I now remember with some embarrassment how many moves from one ministry assignment to another have been burdened--literally--by the weight of all those books. Why? Was I really going to read those books over and over again? Was I really going to use those books for sermon preparation or Bible study or personal devotion? In some cases the answer could be yes, but most of those books were possessions that had started to possess and control my life.
Here is the lesson of our possessions: any good thing can become an obsession when it starts to dominate our life, control our attention, or distract us from our purpose and mission.
This article is excerpted from the author's The Andrew Paradigm: How to Be a Lead Follower of Jesus.