In Aesop’s fable “The Tortoise and the Hare,” a speedy rabbit loses a race to a plodding turtle when the bunny decides its lead is so great that it can enjoy a brief snooze. When the rabbit awakes, he sees that the tortoise is crossing the finish line. An ancient Greek commentator noted that “many people have good natural abilities which are ruined by idleness; on the other hand, sobriety, zeal and perseverance can prevail over indolence.”
In our text today, Jesus also describes a surprising finish at the end of life’s race. People who seemed to be winning according to all the standards valued by the world—wealth and status and power and connections and even religious propriety—discover that they have missed the point of discipleship.
As we saw yesterday, another man is asking Jesus, “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 16). His question, however well intentioned, fundamentally misunderstands this inheritance. Throughout His ministry Jesus stressed that inheriting eternal life depends on believing that He is who He says He is—the Son of God—not on impressing God with good deeds.
So what then does Jesus mean by His instruction to sell possessions? At that time—and often in our day as well—wealth was viewed as a sign of God’s blessing. Possessions were seen as vindication of one’s righteousness. Jesus upends that calculus. The command to sell possessions and give to the poor requires giving up trust in wealth and status and placing all trust in Jesus instead. The willingness to get rid of any thing that claims our devotion other than our Lord reveals the reality of a life transformed by the saving power of God. Jesus notes that all sacrifice for the sake of following Him will be worth it in light of eternity (v. 29).