When studying Jesus’ words, we have a tendency of concluding that Jesus didn’t mean exactly what He said. Have you heard those sermons? Read those books? Had those thoughts?
A section of red letters is read and then is followed up with an interpretation of His real intent. Translation: These are Jesus’ recorded words, but that’s not really what He meant. There are several passages where this commonly takes place, but none more often than with the story called “The Rich Young Ruler” (Luke 18:18-23). We read that a person of power comes to Jesus inquiring about salvation. Based upon the words used to describe him--rich, young, ruler--it would seem that life was really going well for him. Yet he was clearly struggling with big questions, so he asked Jesus how he could gain eternal life. Jesus listed several commandments, and the young ruler assured Jesus that he had kept all of them since he was a boy.
I envision the young man holding his chin high with chest puffed out, fully expecting Jesus to be impressed and immediately grant him salvation. Instead, Jesus said, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The man walked away sad.
If this was a sermon you were listening to, you might hear the teacher explain how this story isn’t about needing to eliminate wealth before being ready to follow Jesus well. So point one would be: Jesus didn’t mean what He said. Remainder of the sermon: Explaining what Jesus really meant.
I am a preacher, and I admit I have done this very thing. Even right now I am rationalizing in my mind how this passage really isn’t about selling possessions as a great starting place to follow Jesus. You may find yourself doing the same.
Your Jesus would never demand such a thing. Neither would mine. We want Jesus’ words, message, and instructions to fit within the framework of the Savior we envision Him to be. We don’t want to deal with the incongruity of our perception of Jesus coming up against the reality of who He was. But the fact remains, to be like Jesus, we must be willing to acknowledge that our conception of Him may not be accurate and then go in search of the truth.
Many have settled for a Counterfeit Jesus, a Jesus who is content to imitate instead of being imitated. Have you?