Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
– excerpts of Matthew 19:16-22 (NIV)
I’d be sad if I were the rich young man, too. “Sell all your stuff” is a hard thing to hear, maybe even harder when you’re rich. But it could be worse, really.
Jesus says that selling off your stuff is what you have to do if you want to be perfect. He doesn’t say you actually need to be perfect (not here, anyway), just that if you want to be, this is what you should do. Giving everything away is a sort of extra credit assignment, the kind of thing Hermione Granger would ask for.
But if you’re OK with a strong pass—say, a B+—Jesus sets the bar for entering life much lower. All you have to do is keep the commandments—and he doesn’t even require all ten. All he says is don’t murder people, commit adultery, steal, or lie; do take care of your parents; and love your neighbor at least as well as you love yourself. Boom.
The A-plussers and perfectionists out there have reason to be as sad as the rich young man. Everybody else: we got this. Also, I hear this guy grades on a curve.
I’d love to be perfect, God, but we both know that’s not going to happen. Help me pass is all I ask. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.