I’ve written about the “rich young ruler” a few times before but reading about the plight of our persecuted brothers and sisters brought the story to mind again. These days when preachers deliver a sermon on this parable (Mark 10:17-22), they tend to lean one of two ways. Either they will brush aside the command of Jesus to sell everything as specific to the man in the story and not a general principle for all Christians to follow.
Or they will say a few may be called to do this, but the important thing is we don’t hold too tight to the things of this world and not to pursue riches for our own comfort. I have held the opinion the point of the story is we must be willing to leave everything at a moment’s notice if that’s what God leads us to do, and not to question such a command should it come. I now believe all these interpretations may miss the point altogether.
When ISIS was coming to power in Northern Iraq, they went through the villages there marking the homes of those who chose to follow Jesus. Those folks could either choose to deny Jesus or leave their homes behind. Those who chose to stay were executed. Whoever chose to hold fast to Jesus lost everything they had. In other words, they abandoned all their possessions for the sake of following Jesus. They understood the trade was more than worth it. Unlike the rich young ruler, when faced with giving up everything for Jesus, they did not hesitate. They willingly gave it all.
The sad reality is many of these people, and indeed millions more throughout the Middle East, continue to live in refugee camps. They still have no homes, no jobs, and no way to get through each day short of their reliance on Jesus. They are living the parable of the rich young ruler in real-time. They knew they were forfeiting their futures when they walked away from their homes and the lives they had known. Still, they chose Jesus. This is reality. Even today in places like Syria and Somalia, people are still having to choose between everything they own and Jesus. To them, the rich young ruler is not just a story on the pages of the Bible. It is their story.
Don’t presume because you live in the West you will be spared this choice. Our world is changing dramatically and at a speed unseen in our lifetime. Perhaps tomorrow, we too will need to make the choice of the rich young ruler. How will we respond? Will Jesus be worth leaving everything behind knowing we will probably never get it back again? I wonder. Until such a day, we should pray for courage and strength at that moment. And we must remember to pray for our brothers and sisters who are living in the refugee camps or perhaps in hiding. Pray for those who are abandoned, beaten, and tortured for their faith. Pray for the families of those whose loved ones have paid the ultimate price and given their lives for the sake of the gospel. We must never forget them, and we must never deny our Savior for the sake of our comfort and security.