Sell! Sell?

How many of us can remember a time when a preacher was heard to exhort the congregation to sell all their possessions and give to the poor (Luke 12: 32 – 40)? When, for that matter, have I ever looked at the people in front of me and proclaimed, Thus says the Lord, sell all you have and give?! It is difficult enough to think of the church as an institution selling all it has but it seems almost impossible to consider it in personal terms.

But why should this be the case? Is this command any less clear than that of the evangelical foundation about needing to ‘be born again’? If one is allowed as the foundation of evangelical belief, perhaps this should be promoted as the foundation of evangelical practice.

Evangelical poverty, or becoming poor for the sake of the gospel, is not a message heard much in these parts – perhaps to the relief of many of us! Yet evangelical poverty has a long history and tradition within the faith. While today, it could be suggested, there appears to be a growing realisation of its vocation being recovered, through developments such as Fresh Expressions and Prayer 24/7. There is also New Monasticism with its identified marks of the church , including commitment to the abandoned, socio-economic justice, hospitality, peace-making, environment and formation in the way of Christ

Maybe it also needs to be noted that the issue may not be so much to do with the possessions in themselves but

  • our attitude to them, and, particularly, to those without them
  • how they have been gained
  • how they are held on to
  • what they prevent from happening
  • how life is viewed without them; and,
  • how generous they allow us to be

Or, maybe I’m just looking for a rationalisation as a way out.

So here we are, sitting in front of Jesus, and he looks at us with love and compassion and simply says…

Sell all you have, and give to the poor, for your Father has given you the kingdom!

How does my heart respond?

Lord, have mercy…

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5 comments

  1. The gospel passage is a particular meeting of a person with Jesus. The invite to sell all
    he owned was extended to that individual in the context of the personal encounter. Jesus
    did not invite all he encountered to leave everything and follow him. In some instances where
    a person Jesus healed wanted to follow him, Jesus instead told them to return to their village.

    The personal encounter described is similar to the discernment of a vocation to religious life, where one surrenders all one individually possessed to follow the Lord. You cant take that invite on yourself – it has to be personally extended by the Lord.

    Saint Anthony of Egypt heard this gospel as a personal invite, sold everything and went into the desert. It worked out very well for him, because Jesus had really spoken to him through the text. However, a large number of individuals tried to imitate Anthony, and it often turned out badly. A number of them went insane. The lesson is you cannot take this unusual call on yourself – the call comes from God.
    Jesus had a number of property owning followers, such as Lazarus and Joseph of Arimithea, who fulfilled their calling while continuing to own property. It is also worth remembering that Peter and the other apostles went back fishing initially after the resurrection. So they still owned the fishing gear and boats. Jesus had not instructed them to sell everything. Perhaps the rich young man’s possessions were an obstacle to his spiritual journey, which is why Jesus extended the invite to him to live on the providence of God.
    Finally, I am relieved to hear you haven’t heard preachers instructing their congregations to sell everthing. That would be a clear case of spiritual abuse.

    1. Hi Colm

      Many thanks for taking the time to read the blog, and even more so, for offering some insights by way of progressing the conversation. I think there are a couple of things that come to mind, for me, on reflection

      1. Luke 12 does not appear to be speaking only to one individual. The passage seems to move from disciples (in midst of large crowd), to single person (v14) but note plural (16) in parable, then back to the disciples again and finally the story at hand was given to the ‘little flock’ (v32), which I will speculate and consider to be the disciples as a group. It is notable Peter is recorded as asking who these words are for (Luke 12: 41) and no answer is directly given… so for all or none? Is it really only a hyperbole that Jesus doesn’t actually expect anyone to do?

      2. It is true Jesus did not require everyone to leave everything and follow him – I am not sure the blog argues for this

      3. The personal invitation for me is included in my commitment to faith and to following Jesus in discipleship; it may also be that some are gifted/ graced with a very specific vocation… though again I’m not sure the blog was particularly commenting on that vocation

      4. With respect to St Anthony’s imitators – I don’t know who, if any, did not have a sense of God’s calling to the desert way and so I’m not sure I can conclude that any insanity which may have been shown was or was not a direct consequence of misplaced discipleship; though as we know from the whole church narrative down the centuries, vocation does not prevent followers suffering for the faith

      5. Yes, there were property owning followers; and, I think, the women who supported Jesus in ministry are worthy of note as well (Luke 8: 3). Incidentally, I’m not sure the text anywhere states the disciples still owned any boats; even though they may well still have had use of some. Here again, however, I don’t think the blog was arguing against ownership of property; rather, Jesus challenge to the ‘little flock’ (and perhaps myself as part of the larger flock) makes me wonder
      a. Where is my treasure is; and, thus
      b. For the sake of the gospel, on what is my life focused and based – consequently the set of queries that were included in the blog

      6. Then we read Luke 14: 25ff

      7. All this said, I think there remains a core issue of how words recorded in the Bible maintain meaning for today’s and tomorrow’s world and flock – the classic hermeneutical quandary.

      8. One of the things I find interesting generally is how words spoken in private to one individual at night (you must be born again) can have a whole evangelical tradition built on them, and yet words like these from Jesus re selling possessions do not seem to be held with the same emphasis.
      9. We do well to remember also that the early church tradition actually was one of selling and/ or making available to the community; thus the whole tradition of Acts and Paul’s collections (2 Corinthians 8)

      10. Lastly, I think ‘spiritual abuse’ is a seriously important concept and experience which is always important to reflect upon. I suppose one thing I note from the text is that the benefit of the wealth was to be given to the poor and not to an individual church leader nor to the ‘flock’/ church. That said, I would not really have often thought of Jesus as a preacher being accused of ‘spiritual abuse’, and yet ultimately could it be argued this is precisely the reason his detractors accused, condemned and crucified him, for what they believed to be his ‘spiritual abuse’ of the teachings, the temple and the religious hierarchy?

      Anyway, many thanks again for taking the time to read the blog and as I say even more so for taking the time to comment.

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