Much of Jesus’ teaching is reassuring, kind and lovely. But there is a huge amount that is challenging, mysterious and even annoying. I’ve been reading the middle section of Mark’s gospel – it is just section after section of tough teaching, provocation and why it can be so hard to follow Jesus on the road of discipleship. BUY THIS IS THAT
There’s one story where a man really wants to join in with the movement. He’s living really well, he’s already bowing down before Jesus, he knows the scriptures, he wants eternal life – and he’s got loads of money so would be a great asset to the ministry. Not only that, but Mark describes the affinity and connection Jesus feels towards him and says that Jesus loved this man. But he can’t let go of his wealth – certainly not to give it away to the poor and then to follow Jesus.
It is really hard to let go. In that particular story you can feel the tension in the man who is torn between a deep desire to follow Jesus but also a strong attachment to what he has either earned or inherited (both of which would not necessarily be bad). He walks away sad.
I was in a discussion with a missions ministry last week. The organisation is flourishing – it has grown and developed wonderfully over the last 10 years or so – and has reach and roots that position it very well for the next decade. But one of the main assets that has helped it get to this place may have to be left behind. It is really hard to even comprehend letting go of something that has brought such blessing; a way of being that has been attractive, formative and holds such delightful memories for many.
We struggle to let go of bad habits but when the light shines on them and we are convicted then it becomes easier to lay them aside for the obvious and compelling freedom that Jesus offers. But it is much harder to let go of things that have been helpful; people or places that are part of our journey of faith and blessing. Jesus had people who were rich who followed him, and they did use their wealth to support the ministry. And maybe that is what that particular wealthy young ruler wanted to do too. But Jesus called him to make a deeply spiritual and emotional sacrifice. It wasn’t just about the cash – it was about whether the man trusted and loved Jesus with his whole life, fulfilment and aspirations (which up to that point, the money could have probably bought for him).
After the man leaves Jesus teaches those famous words about rich people and the kingdom, camels and eyes of needles etc. The disciples are really shocked and offended! This is the thing about the Kingdom of Heaven. We love it but we also hate it. We receive it but we also repel it. In our God-imaged humanity the values of justice, mercy and humility resonate along the ancient pathways of our hearts. Most people are drawn to this because their Creator – whether they acknowledge him or not – is like this. But in our corrupted worldliness we don’t appreciate these same things. They puzzle us and even offend us. We even fight against the very King we profess to love.
That is why the teaching of Jesus is so uniquely strong. His Kingdom message is so deeply right and yet also appears so profoundly wrong. And we end up like the man in the story – hopeful, willing, torn and sad. Even when we are doing well, embracing Jesus, praying, worshipping and hoping, we might find that we are confronted with a gentle but firm suggestion to let go of good things for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. This is the challenge for my friends on mission – what was clearly given by God as a vehicle for health and growth may have to be let go of – good as it is – for the sake of the better and the new.
So, whether it’s things that have trapped our hearts because of the culture of the world, or gifts from God that He, the giver, now asks us to relinquish for his sake, letting go is an art in the Holy Spirit. After that man went away sad, and the disciples couldn’t get their heads round Jesus not accepting his funding and its grip on him, Jesus said: “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” Mark 10
Martin J Young