Haven't you heard people say it? I have. It is one of the main ways preachers, evangelists, and just ordinary people deal with this uncomfortable passage in the New Testament:
One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me. (Mark 10:21)
Didn't He mean that for the rich young ruler alone? Wasn't it only for him and not for the rest of us? You know, only for those people who have a "problem" with their riches. Isn't that what the context of Yahshua's words tells us? You can tell that the rich young ruler had a "problem" with riches because he went away sad.
But who has riches and doesn't trust in them? When the Great Depression began and the stock market crashed, people jumped out of windows and killed themselves. When their wealth was gone, they had nothing to fall back upon. They certainly trusted in riches, and when their riches were gone, they had nothing left to trust.
If you read the story carefully you can see that the rich young ruler did trust Yahshua to a remarkable extent. He might have known Him and His message better than we think. After all, he came to Him because he knew that He had the ability to grant him the one thing he lacked -- eternal life. He even knew there was something that he must do to gain eternal life. But the answer to his question, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" was not at all what he thought it would be.
It was a very hard thing to do -- if you love your own life in this world -- but not if you hate your life in this world.1
Give Him a million shekels... climb up the Temple steps a thousand times on his knees... build an orphanage... go to Mount Sinai in the desert and listen to the voice of God? So many things he would have done for eternal life, even "Only believe!" But to give up all he had and come, follow Him... that was too much. The Good Teacher and he had different ideas about "the one thing he lacked."
The rich young ruler faced the cost of removing the guilt from his conscience, and shuddered, forfeiting eternal life instead of his possessions. Making right the damage his wealth and careless ease had done to others, to the name of God, and to his own soul, involved losing what he would not let go of. He found his security in it.
So, the cost of this "treasure in heaven" was too high -- honoring God by obeying His words. This meant humbly admitting that the Good Teacher knew the way out of the predicament of his guilt. It also meant doing all he could to satisfy His Father's heart that "there would be no poor in the land."2 And it meant making right any wrongs he had committed as a rich man.
There was another wealthy man, a tax collector, who understood this, too. It was the first thing on his conscience when confronted with the mercy of God in the person of Yahshua. Zaccheus gave half his wealth to charity and paid back what he had defrauded from others four times over.3 Like the rich young ruler, he understood he had to do something to be worthy of receiving the Son of God.4 Sounds heretical, I know, but it all depends on where your heart is: "Where your treasure is there will your heart be also."5
It seems as if the rich young ruler wished that could be the other way around: "Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also," but the Savior didn't say that. So the man turned away in grief and sorrow, understanding the choice before him. Since then most people have not had his sensitivity of conscience, for they only turn away with a shrug. "Hard sayings," they say, and turn away.
Yahshua knew how easy it would be to focus on the particular circumstances of this "rich man" and not see that it applied to all who would believe in Him. The "great astonishment" of His disciples showed that even they did not really understand. But they had been willing to do what the rich young ruler wasn't: "See, we have left all and followed you."6
They wanted to know, "What about us? Is there eternal life for us?"
Remember, His disciples were "the poor" and not the rich. What about them? By saying, "There is no one..." Yahshua generalized His words to this particular rich young ruler to include all, both rich and poor:
Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time -- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions -- and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)
The underlying issue of possessions is deeper than security. It is authority. Yahshua was not teaching His disciples to preach a gospel of salvation by philanthropy -- the good works of the wealthy. He was not training them that eternal life was for sale with charity or alms. But He was saying something very definitive about salvation: "Are you going to do what I want you to do?"
Knowing what was in the heart of man, the Master thus put His finger on the very nerve of human existence. He was saying to this man what He says to every man and woman: Unless I can be the highest Authority in your life there is no salvation for you. This is why He said to the multitudes in Luke 14:33, "So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions."
When the disciples asked in their astonishment, "Who then can be saved?" His answer comforted them, "All things are possible with God."7 What almost everyone misses is that He goes on to explain how it is "possible with God" in verses 29-30 -- by forsaking all for His sake and the gospel's sake, resulting in a hundredfold return in the life shared with all who believe, along with persecutions, and in the age to come, eternal life.
Those who fail to see this must embrace the contradiction that God would deny His very own word by granting eternal life to someone who would not obey His word. Isn't that a lot to "hope" for with eternity at stake?