“Go, sell all your possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and come follow me”. (Matt 19: v21)
That is an enormously costly request – even in the 1st Century AD. What Jesus is apparently asking, is for the rich young man to get rid of everything except the clothes he stands up in, and to follow Christ.
It is one of the main difficulties I have, being a (comparatively) well-off middle-aged man with plenty of possessions!
Now perhaps what Jesus is asking was easier to do in 1st century Israel than it is to do now.
In the western world of the 21st century life appears to be unliveable with no possessions, unless one is in a closed community of some sort.
We depend on cars (or motorcycles or bicycles) to get around – to the shops, the doctor, the dentist, the library, work etc.
We use the telephone, or more commonly these days, some sort of computing device (whether smartphone, tablet or laptop computer) to communicate with all sorts of people and organisations.
More and more Government and other information is available on-line, and in some cases can ONLY be accessed on-line.
Television, films on DVD, HiFi, leisure pursuit equipment, (golf, fishing, walking/climbing etc) all fill our homes and lives. Some of us also have many books as well.
So how can we even begin to equate what Jesus asked the rich young man to do with life in 21st Century Britain?
In 1st Century Israel, it was common to see wandering groups surrounding a religious teacher, who moved from place to place and depended on others for food and shelter. Thus the command “sell everything and follow me” would not have been too much of a surprise.
In 21st Century Britain we don’t have roving bands of disciples with a religious teacher at the centre ( perhaps we ought to!) so we can’t relate directly to that. In fact anyone who is homeless and dependent on charity to live is stigmatised and pushed into the margins of society – the very people Jesus came to minister to!
Here am I sitting in a Cafe in Oxford and the signs of conspicuous consumption are all around me – contrasted with the homeless sleeping on the streets and the Big Issue sellers. I myself have used this visit to make purchases which I will use, but didn’t really need. There seems to be this in-built need to spend, to possess, to own, to be SEEN to own. Why is this? Why should the West, and me in particular, feel the need to be constantly buying?
I’ve sold a lot of unnecessary computer equipment recently, but I still have 2 tablets, a MacBook, a Windows 2 in 1 machine, and a Linux machine. Seeing that I’m not involved in IT anymore, do I actually NEED all those?
Should I bite the bullet and dispose of all except that I use on a day to day basis?
All I really need is one laptop, one tablet and one phone.
How has this insidious disease infiltrated our collective consciousness?
The same goes with clothing, cars, everything. There are people who have vast quantities of clothing, much of which is bought, worn once, and consigned to the back of the wardrobe. Although I have a relatively small number of clothes compared to some, there are still items that I haven’t worn for some years.
How does the command of Jesus to sell all and follow him fit into this scenario?
I think that it is almost impossible for the normal Christian living in the world to take this literally. There are so many aspects of life that need possessions – for example, I’m writing this on my iPad – I use iPad for reading books when away, for the Daily Office.
I use my car to get to Church, the doctor, the dentist, go shopping, and numerous other things.
This dependence on products of a consumerist society is not necessarily bad.
The key phrase here seems to me to be “sustainability and stewardship”.
Using renewable energy sources for example, not buying the latest gadget just because it’s new. Use what possessions you have until they are either worn out or it’s not economic to repair them.
Recycle as much as you can – sell unwanted and/or unused items – particularly technology.
As much as we can, use what we have for the benefit of others.
However, that still doesn’t address the main problem that I have about possessions. Why should this be so? Why should I feel guilty about owning so much stuff when three-quarters of the world have almost nothing?
Should I feel guilt about an accident of birth that I live in an extremely wealthy western country where having “great possessions” is seen as the norm?
As a tangential note, are the poor in this country REALLY poor? I would say not, compared to some African and Asian countries. What does that say about our collective view of poverty and possessions?
“Possession poverty” doesn’t of itself preclude health, food and shelter. Quality of life doesn’t mean “spend spend spend”.
There needs to be a sea-change in societal thinking, and maybe it’s up to the various faith communities to start the ball rolling.
As Luke wrote in Acts 2: 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
What a wonderful vision that is. I just wonder where we would be of if the church had followed through with that? Drat Constantine!
Perhaps we could all (and me particularly) consider what we actually NEED and begin a process of prayerful decluttering…..