And he went away sad

This Sunday we heard the story of Jesus talking to a rich young man who wants to know what it would take for him to get into the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells him the rules, and the young man says, “Oh, good, I’ve done all those things!”

So Jesus raises the bar:

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to (the) poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  At that statement [the young man’s] face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Just about everyone who comments on this passage takes the tack that the young man has refused to do what Jesus said.

I’ve always felt that’s backward. If the young man were going to refuse, he’d have said, “Are you out of your mind? Why would I do that? Who the heck are you to tell me what to do with my money?”


Instead he went away sad. Why do people go away sad? Because they don’t want to do the thing they’re about to do.

I think the going-away-sad meant he was grieving for his possessions, but he really was going to get rid of them and follow Jesus.

Feel free to argue with me. I wasn’t there and I don’t know, and yes, I’m taking a position in contrast to just about everyone who’s ever commented on this passage. But the point of Jesus’s next statements is that it’s harder for a rich man to get into Heaven than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle (Ivy, you can tell us about the pun there) but with God, all things are possible.

I think the young man went ahead and did it. But his sadness shows how attached he was to his wealth. Frankly, most of us probably live at a level of comfort far beyond whatever riches he had. If you found out you needed to get rid of everything you owned — and intended to do it — wouldn’t you be sad too?


  1. whiskers

    You have a very good point there. And a very compassionate way of looking at things.

  2. MysteryNurse

    You know, I always wondered if that might be the case, too.

  3. Scott

    I think he’s sad because he has 2 things that he considers very important and has to make the choice. Not a choice he would probably make right there.

    Telling Jesus outright “no” would indicate he already made the choice.

    It’s one of those cliffhangers that we’ll never know the ending to.

    1. philangelus

      Scott, that’s a really good point. I can give you a list as long as my arm of things it felt that God was telling me to do that my first reaction was, “But I can’t do that!” and at the same time knowing I had to do it. It’s a sad grieving feeling to see what you’re about to lose and deciding whether that’s really what God wants.

  4. capt_cardor

    Its funny. My wife and I discussed this passage after Church and she took the exact same position you did. She felt that Mark left that point out to make the point of the story more effective.

    I have a story about the Eye of a Needle also and would like to hear Ivy’s.

  5. Jim Kane

    A very insightful point. Never saw it from this perspective…

  6. Blair

    I’ve always thought about it that way too.

  7. AnotherFaceintheCrowd

    Well, being sad that he’s going to have to part with his possessions is one interpretation… and that’s a decision I hope he *didn’t* make. Parting with your possessions because it’s the rules is pointless. He’d still be holding onto them in his heart.

    I always thought that perhaps he was grieving for the realisation of how far he was from the kingdom of heaven. It’s a shock and either way whether he accepts the separation or decides on the uncertain path of discipleship, he’s going to be sad for a long time.

    1. philangelus

      That’s a good point too. The realization that he thought he was close to God but there was something blocking his holiness would also make him sad. The grief would arise from the sense of having disappointed God (don’t argue the theology there — I can’t think of the right word right now.)

      But again in that scenario, he’d be resolving to get rid of the blockade to his own spiritual growth.

  8. Victor S E Moubarak

    I approached the story from a different perspective in my Blog. I did not focus on the rich man, but on what Jesus said instead. Anyway, you can read this if you wish.

    However, let’s consider this story in a modern context:

    Let’s imagine Christ spoke to you; and you had absolute proof that it was Him speaking – so let’s not debate that point for now. And He asked you to sell all you had and follow Him (say by becoming a missionary in some far off land or whatever).

    Would you be able to do it? Would you leave your spouse (divorce?) your children, your job, your friends; would you sell all your posessions and go on to a new life following Jesus?

    When I thought about this I sympathised with the rich man. No doubt he had a family and children depending on him, perhaps he had many servants relying on him for employment, he probably had business commitments. Is it feasible to leave everything and follow Jesus?

    Did Jesus really mean what He asked of him? Or was He just testing him?

    I hope He never asks me because in all honesty I don’t know how I would respond.

    Father Damien (St Damien of Molokai) knew how to answer. Mother Theresa too. How about you?

    1. philangelus

      It says he was young, so he might not have had a wife yet, or children (even if he was married.)

      If I were 100% sure God was telling me to do something, I’d have to do it. I wouldn’t be able to be happy knowing I was using something God now considered “contraband.”

      It would be harder to watch my children sacrificing, though. Up until now, it’s been things like “Leave the forum at ehell” which affected me but no one else, not really. Or, “Clean your house,” which affects my family in a positive way. 🙂

      Maybe it’s eaiser to give up luxury when you’re young and have less to lose and fewer people depending on you.

      1. cricketB

        I found it easier to handle uncertainty when younger. Now, though, we’ve invested in objects and retirement savings. It would be more difficult to give up all we’ve worked for, knowing that if it didn’t work out, we’d have to work twice as hard to do it again (gotta love compound interest and an almost-teenage boy).

  9. Lane in PA

    It might be useful for the sake of discussion to contemplate what possessions a rich man would have at those times.

    Land, access to clean water, a flock of sheep, orchards, fields of grain, a donkey for transportation, oxen for labor — those are the tangibles. Knowing from where your next meal is coming, that you have a dry, clean bed to sleep on, that you are surrounded by family and friends and your servants aren’t trying to poison you — those are the intangibles.

    The rich man would be giving up his world of security to venture into the unknowns — is the well water drinkable? Are the strangers trustworthy? Will he be offered food or will he go hungry? Where is it safe to stop and make camp for the night?

    He was probably frightened as well as sad.

    A friend of ours chose to give up all his possessions and be a missionary for his church. He sold his house, his cars, and the church sent him and his wife to a small impoverished country in Africa. The church gives him $26,000 a year to live on, which means he still has clean water, food, shelter, medicine, clothing and a certain amount of security. In many ways, he is still a rich man depending on how you define wealth. I don’t mean this as criticism, but I do find a certain amount of irony in it.

    How does one give up all his possessions in a world of bottled water and MREs?

  10. Lane in PA

    Many times I think that life would be so much better if I could walk away from all the “stuff”. Today’s post reminded me of a book I read decades ago, “The Wisdom of Insecurity” by Alan Watts. Maybe it is time to revisit that insecurity. Maybe that was the reaction Jesus encouraged from the Rich Man.

  11. jaed

    It occurs to me – I wonder if anyone else sees it this way – that the important part is not the “sell all you have” part, but the second half: “follow me”.

    The young man would not have come to Jesus in the first place if he hadn’t been attracted to his teaching and his presence, I wouldn’t think. And here the teacher is inviting him to follow him. How exciting, how incredible… but now he needs to think whether this is what he really wants to do. Yesterday if someone had asked him whether he wanted to give up everything to follow Jesus, he might have said it was his dream, but now it’s a real possibility. And maybe he doesn’t desire it as much as he thought he did.

    I think that’s why he was sad. Not at the prospect of losing his stuff.