The Cost of Our Discipleship
by Dan Kidd
In the middle of the 4th century (AD), lived a young man, around the age of 18 or 20, named Anthony. Anthony's parents were Christians, Egyptians, and people of wealth, who had recently passed away and Anthony was left to tend to the home and his little sister. One day, this young man returned to the Lord's House, as was his custom. That fateful day, Anthony heard Matthew's Gospel being read, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." Hearing this verse, Anthony believed it was as though God had these words pronounced directly to him. He left the church and immediately gave his possessions, including three hundred acres, to his neighbors, then sold what he could to give money to the poor, leaving only enough to survive for himself and his sister. He did this so that his possessions "should be no more a clog upon himself and his sister." St. Anthony of Egypt would go on to be one of the more notable monastic patriarchs of the Church.
I find this a remarkable story; and a convicting one. Because if I'm honest, every time I've read this passage in a group of fellow Christians, we are all rather quick to find ways we can respond to Jesus' invitation to discipleship that approximate the sacrifice of all of our possessions without actually having to part with any of our possessions. When we read this passage, we know Jesus is not speaking directly to us, but to this wealthy young man who was asking about getting eternal life. And there are, in fact, so many ways that we can respond to Jesus' invitation to discipleship that require incredible sacrifice from us. Not to mention, our wealth can certainly be a help to us as we help others, practicing our love through generosity. We needn't read this passage and respond like Anthony.
I wonder if we might also neutralize this passage a little too much? If I'm honest with myself, I find Anthony's response to this passage to be astonishing overkill. But is that right? Should I really be so beside myself that someone would hear Jesus, saying to someone who was inquiring about eternal life, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor" and then that person would go forth and do exactly that? What about Anthony's response is—if we really think on it—so absurd? Also, what if that isn't actually all that strange of response? Why does following Jesus' instructions in this way seem so unfathomable to me?
It is unlikely that you read today's passage and were convicted to sell all your possessions for the sake of the poor so you might have treasure in heaven, but, then again, the Lord will do what the Lord will do. For the rest of us, perhaps we don't fall into the trap of thinking that either we sell everything, or this passage doesn't have any claim to make on our lives. Jesus states plainly that it is nearly impossible for a wealthy person to enter the Kingdom of God. Money, wealth, possessions—all of these things in excess, deceive and anesthetize us from our true and absolute dependence on God. The shimmer of it hypnotizes us, but it will all go away someday.
And, if you're like me, it might tempt you to say, "well, this is not a concern for me because I am by no imagination rich." But, when I think of the things I own, the house I live in, my furnace, my refrigerator, and my bed, and then I think on how many hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions, who don't have these things, I have to confess that I am richer than I'd like to think, even as I'm poorer than I'd like to be. Too often when I pray "Give us this day our daily bread..." I truthfully mean that I want more than just that. This is how I know the Lord is continuing to train me up, transform me, into someone who is more generous—more reliant on him alone—than I was, and than I am now.
Who then can be saved? "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Thanks be to God!
We pray this: Jesus, thank you for inviting us to follow you, inviting us into relying on you and into the generosity that flows from that. Thank you, Lord, for making true, eternal, and perfect life possible for us, who could not do so for ourselves. Give us neither poverty nor riches, but only what is our daily bread, so that we would not have too much and disown you, saying "Who is Lord?" or become poor and steal, and so dishonor your name. Your love, your care, and your generosity are enough. Let it be so for us.