His Most Prized Possession
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
October 11, 2021, Words By: Kris Rocke, Image By: Blakely Dadson
Fred Laceda, a teacher at a grassroots Bible school in the Philippines, and a Street Psalms Fellow, was the scheduled writer for this week’s reflection. Unfortunately, he was hospitalized last week with COVID-19 and remains under medical care. Our prayers go out to Fred and all of those who have suffered the consequences of this pandemic.
I first met Fred, and his colleague Nestor, the president of their bible school, at a conference in Manila in 2018. They were presenting on how the gospel has been used to underwrite, and even justify, all kinds of violence in their context. I quickly sensed we were kindred spirits, and that is exactly who they’ve become — kinsfolk who share a common call to see and celebrate Good News in hard places. I am honored to call them friends.
As I read the lectionary text for this week, my mind kept going back to exegetical conversations Fred and I have had in the past. If he were writing this, he would probably say something about his temptation to interpret this text primarily with an economic lens. And his interpretation would be justified.
Fred and his family have very few material possessions. They are relatively poor. In fact, we have taken up an offering from the network to assist his family financially with medical bills in his time of need. Fred would thank us profusely for sharing our “many possessions,” as the text says. But I don’t think he’d be satisfied with leaving it there. He’d want to invite us to take a deeper look at what’s happening in these verses.
On the surface it seems perfectly obvious. Jesus tells a wealthy man to sell all he has and give it to the poor. When the rich man hears this he is “shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” It seems Jesus’ words also shocked the disciples too, who wondered, if this is the expectation, then “who can be saved?”
To be clear, this text is one of many Bible verses that reveal the injustice between the “haves” and the “have nots.” We can’t lose sight of that. But if we stop there, we risk missing the fact that the wealthy man’s most prized possession is not the stuff he owns — it’s his own sense of “being good.”
This is a man possessed by the thought of his own innocence. That’s what Jesus is trying to free him from — his addiction to his own goodness.
Ostensibly, the man comes to Jesus because he wants to know how to inherit eternal life — which we could translate as the “good life.” But it seems that Jesus perceives different intentions in the man’s heart. So, he uses this as the opportunity to let the man do what he wants to do anyway, which is, rehearse his very good, self-congratulatory resume.
The man tells Jesus that he has kept “all” of the commandments. In other words, he publicly declares that he is a good guy. And if he truly has kept all the commandments, it means that he is also a generous man who cared for those in need. In other words, he is truly one of the good ones.
If we follow the man’s logic, the good life he lives is the reward for being good — playing by the rules and doing the right thing. His many possessions are a sign that he is, in fact, righteous, favored by God.
And yet, what Jesus sees is a man who is possessed by his own sense of goodness … and it’s killing him!
What appears to be a story about the transfer of wealth turns out to be a story of a good guy undergoing the loss of his own goodness— his most prized possession.
If you’ve ever experienced some version of this, you know just how devastating it can be. However your “emperor-with-no-clothes-on” moment occurs, the loss of our perceived goodness makes us feel vulnerable. And we tend to respond through fight or flight.
But that’s where this text gets interesting. In verse 21 it says, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”
To be seen with the eyes of love is to be given a whole new identity — one that is not dependent on “being good.” The Gospel, according to Jesus, is not about being good. It’s about being loved. That’s what this man stumbles into. And it completely rocks his world. He encounters a love that casts out the devil of his own self congratulatory innocence that possesses him.
Jesus tells the wealthy man to let go of his “many possessions — chief among them is his own sense of goodness. We are witnessing an exorcism of sorts, but the demon being exorcised seems so very much like an angel to the man. It’s no wonder he’s shocked and full of grief. How does one let go of their sense of goodness?
And yet we must, because it is, literally, killing us. It’s in the naked poverty of being seen through the eyes of love that the richness of the good life emerges. It’s from this place we can let go of our “many possessions” and build a shared humanity in which everyone belongs, especially the most vulnerable. And that is not only good, it’s very good.
Dwelling Among Us
We invite you to pray for Fred and his family.