“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” a rich young ruler asked Jesus (Mark 10:17). Many conservative Christians offer an easy answer for that question, claiming that obtaining eternal life is about “right belief.” But Jesus’s answer is an extreme upending of a moderate way of life. “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” (Mark 10:21). The idea of selling everything he owned to follow Jesus upset the man because “he had many possessions,” the Gospel writer tells us (Mark 10:22). The story provides a clue to what the early Jesus movement was encountering: people resisted Jesus’s extremist message of love, justice, and peace. They didn’t want to upset the status quo. After the rich young ruler leaves, Jesus startles his disciples with this comment: “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23).
There is no more radical message than this. Jesus tells his own followers – or his “base,” as we might say today – that they need to give up everything or they are not truly following him. In the Acts of Apostles, the writer Luke gives us a similar message in the story of two early followers, Ananias and Sapphira. They sold a piece of their property to donate the money to the movement, but they didn’t give all of the money from the sale. The leader of the movement, Peter, responds with harsh words “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” (Act 5:3-4). Hearing this, Ananias falls down and dies. Sapphira quickly meets the same fate. To de-radicalize the story, to make it anything other than extreme, is to reduce the clear message of the early church.
From “Just Faith: Reclaiming Progressive Christianity” by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons – Broadleaf Books