(from the “Peter & The Holy Spirit” Series)
When Ruth and I were just married, we moved around a bit as I struggled to start my fishing business. Back then I went where the fish were, and where I could sell what I caught. We ultimately ended up in Capernaum, but the route from Bethsaida to Capernaum was not a direct one.
During that time we moved eight times in eight years. We didn’t have many possessions, but Ruth had a few things her father had left her, and she wanted to take them with us each time we moved. So each time I would pack up her belongings, and lug them to the next village.
Most of the time we never even opened the bundles – I just lugged them around. When I protested Ruth would look at me with her big, beautiful dark eyes and say, “But I might need whatever is in them … one day.” With each move they seemed to get heavier and heavier. I began to feel like a slave to those possessions.
Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler he was a slave to his possessions, and they were weighing him down. He would have to sell them if he wanted to be free to follow him.
I have heard it taught by well-meaning teachers that Jesus’ statement to the Rich Young Ruler, about giving away everything, was specifically for him, and that nowhere else does Jesus say this to anyone. They say this principle is only for that young man, because his money and his possessions were his god. (As if he would be the only one ever afflicted by this?)
But that teaching is misguided. Jesus says this elsewhere, and as a matter of fact he makes it a universal principle – universal, as in for all of us. Okay, don’t panic. Or do. Whatever gets your attention. But I remember another when day Jesus said this to a crowd, and I think he turned to glance at me as he said it:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
Okay, now you can panic. But let’s dig deeper.
In our culture, from time to time someone will set up a tent at the market place and sell their personal possessions to raise money. Often they do this to avoid slavery, because they can’t pay their debts. When Jesus tells the Rich Young Ruler to sell all he has and give it to the poor, he is really saying, “You must have a tent sale of the heart. You are a slave to your possessions; if you want to be free, if you want to have a clean heart, you must first clean out what is possessing your heart.”
Jesus is saying to all of us, “Sell, give away, get rid of, do whatever it takes to free yourself from whatever it is that has gripped you, whatever it is that is holding you back from a full surrender to me. Then you will be free to follow me. Because this is how you find me, and how you follow me: by surrendering.”
Whatever you are holding on to, is holding you back from Jesus, and his life to the full. You must surrender it. You see, we don’t make a commitment to Jesus, we don’t accept Jesus, we surrender to him.
What is possessing your heart, more than Jesus? Perhaps it is your money, and to some degree surely it is.
But it can be a myriad of things – or even activities. For me it was my fishing business. That is why, that day on the beach John describes so well towards the end of his gospel, Jesus looked at me and asked me yet again, “Do you love me more than these?”
He was looking down at my fishing gear when he asked me this. He knew my heart. He knew my work defined me and therefore possessed my heart. And he knows your heart, too. He is asking you, just as he asked me, “Do you love me more than these?”