The biggest hurdle to following Jesus as a disciple is our commitments to what scripture calls “the world.” The “world” is more than just the material stuff that exists around us. It is also the attitudes, the worldview, the narrative that tries to give meaning and purpose to things like homes, cars, paychecks, jobs… well, everything.
When Jesus tells a rich man, who wishes to obtain eternal life, to sell his possessions and follow him, the man will not, cannot, because he is too attached to his worldly possessions. (Mark 10:17 ff). At the end of the encounter, Jesus tells his disciples “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (v. 25) You have to travel light to travel with Jesus.
The spiritual task to which this points is relinquishment or renunciation. Renunciation is part of the ritual of Holy Baptism and Affirmation of Baptism. We are asked to renounce all the things of this world that keep us from following Christ, “the devil and the devil’s empty promises.” We respond: “I renounce them.” Oswald Chambers, who wrote the classic My Utmost for His Highest, said:
No one is ever united with Jesus Christ until he is willing to relinquish not sin only, but his whole way of looking at things
So how does one relinquish our life, renounce the things that tie us to the world’s operating system? Do we sell everything and enter a hermitage, live in a cave? Probably not.
There is a consistent image in scripture that points to a way of living that can help us live in this world without being overcome by its grasp. This image allows us to contend with the “things” of the world without grabbing them for our own. When we live as stewards of what we have been given, we can both renounce the world and live into the reign of God. Douglas John Hall, in his book, The Steward: A Biblical Symbol Come of Age writes,
The human being is, as God’s steward, accountable to God and responsible for its fellow creatures.”
As steward is, by definition, one who takes care of someone else’s stuff. That means we relinquish ownership of what we have, and see everything in our life as gifts, entrusted to our care by the owner and author of everything. Adam and Eve were placed in the garden to “till it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15) not to claim it as owners. What we do with the earth, our job, our money, our spouse, our children is something for which God calls us to account, because it all belongs to God. That makes our purpose in this world far more meaningful than just accumulating things for our own use and pleasure.
When we renounce our ownership of everything, we open ourselves to becoming disciples with purpose for the good of creation and the service of God’s reign of justice and shalom.
copyright © Timothy V. Olson, 2017