Though there are notable exceptions, my life experience suggests that people with a lot of power and money have trouble trusting their fate to anything else. Of course, this is what Christ’s encounter with the wealthy ruler (Luke 18:18-23, compare with the similar account in Mark 10:17-31)) leads us to expect. He comes to Christ asking: “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal Life?” Recalling first of all the standard of God’s perfection, Christ answers the question with reference to the commandments of God: “Thou shalt not murder. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honor thy father and mother.” The rich ruler replies, “These things have I kept from my youth.”
Which when Jesus had heard, he said to him: Yet one thing is wanting to thee. Sell all whatever thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. And come and follow me.
He, having heard these things, became sorrowful: for he was very rich. And Jesus seeing him become sorrowful said: How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God. For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
Given the “prosperity gospel” mindset that is, these days, not uncommon in ministries and churches that profess to follow Christ, Christ’s response to the wealthy prince may seem insufficiently welcoming and winsome. Rather than risk a crestfallen response, today’s more accommodating church teachers might be more likely to smile and say, “Come follow Christ. He welcomes everyone.”
Now, if we compare the account in the Gospel of Mark with the account from Luke given above, the latter confirms that Christ responded to his questioner with love. For, after the rich man avows that, from his youth, he has kept God’s commandments, the Scripture report (Mark 10:17) that “Then Jesus beholding him love him.” Yet and still, in both cases Christ instructs his interlocutor to sell all that he has and give the proceeds to the poor. Indeed, where Christ’s love is explicitly mentioned, his instruction includes the command “and take up the cross and follow me.”
This command echoes what Christ had previous (Mark 8:34) said to the people, including his disciples, not long before: “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
For anyone whose sense of self derives from material wealth and power, this is obviously a hard challenge. Given the distemper of our times, that challenge must be felt by anyone whose sense of self is founded anywhere but in God and Jesus Christ. What becomes of black pride, gay pride, the clamor for acceptance of one’s LGBTQ, etc. identity, or indeed any racial, ethnic or group identification, except the one made in God’s image, and after His likeness?
Apparently, in Christ – even after taking into account his love for those who follow the rules of God’s dominion – what the Apostle Paul says (Galatians 3:27-28) is nonetheless true:
… as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
To identify with Christ is to identify with God, and God alone. But in our times, church leaders and teachers here and there who proclaim themselves members of the body of Christ, and, even at the highest levels, may claim to speak with Christ’s authority, are encouraging people to believe that some chosen identity of their own takes precedence over the commandments of God and the example of Christ.
For Christ challenges all those who would follow him to give up their identification with idols of their own self-esteem. Christ looks into the heart, and whatever it is that one clings to, wracked with sorrow by the thought that “Without this I have nothing, I am nothing, I cannot be myself,” Christ challenges each to surrender it. Yet he does not ignore that, in exchange, what follows may be, as it were, a cross, to which one’s self, made into an idol, is fixed by nails of self-denial, even unto death. For this is not the cross of Christ?
Christ suffers those to turn away who are filled with sorrow at the thought of giving up the identity they cherish. His suffering is, in this respect, an act of love. For he would rather let go those he loves than betray that love by withholding the truth about what is required to live in the presence of God, following His way of life and truth.
In this Christ consistently fulfills the first commandment of love – which is to love the Lord God with one’s whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Does following this leave any part of one’s being or existence to be attached to some other being, in preference to God? How then can the second commandment of love be like the first when it says: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The logic is clear, and simple, yet too often ignored. Everything makes sense when we remember that our neighbor is the one who saves us from those who seek to rob us of all that we have, all that we truly are. (Luke 10:25-37)
That neighbor is Christ, come in the flesh to undo the damage inflicted by the abuse of our freedom, which severs our only true lifeline – the rule of God for our existence. He is the benevolent will of God: Our strength and our salvation, our Spirit and our song as we emerge from death to life in God, regained again, forever. For those who identify themselves with God, in Jesus Christ, all other identities cease to matter – not because they are lost, but because in Him alone is true identity found and fulfilled.
For people who seek life as citizens in the Kingdom of God, what place is there for “identity politics”? The very idea of it is superfluous. For by the Spirit of God we seek, and in the love of God we find, all that becomes us, even as it becomes all else that is or may be. What does it cost us to let go of all we think we have, for the sake of God, when all we are comes of God in the first place? So, giving our all as we come into Him, we come into an inheritance that is more than all. Fair enough?