BY EZRA JUSTIN LEE
We had gone to high school together. And it had been a while since I’d last seen my best high school buddy, Jae, from our home state of Alaska. Those were the good days before giants on Wall Street were collapsing under bad loans and bad faith in the gospel of greed – invisible fists punching at a corrupt system – before hockey moms from Alaska were becoming VP candidates like some horrible, “really bad Disney movie” gone wrong, as Matt Damon would say.
Maybe it’d been a year now. Actually, just three months. But for a year we hadn’t had time to really sit down and share a deeper “let’s-talk-about-philosophical-existential-meaning-of-life” kind of conversation with each other. I always liked having those conversations: we’d most always end up stroking each other’s egos as we threw around big words only smart people like us would know and laughed at each other’s jokes about lofty ideas we thought we really understood but in fact did not. We always felt smarter after those exchanges.
This one conversation took place over Spring Break; I was staying in his dorm room in Prince¬ton for a night before heading off to New York. That night we started talking as he took a short – and then longer – break from his homework. We talked, at first, mostly about girls – mature as we were a year ago. Then we drifted into philosophy, then to God-land, where we discussed the mysteries of God. It was, in its own way, somewhat amazing, as we came upon insight after insight: it’s really too bad that, now that I think about it, I don’t remember many of them.
But I do remember one thing. We were floating around this topic: are we as Christians really called to be “extreme” in our faith, in the sense that we are called to give up everything we own in our servitude to God? We ran into this topic because Jae had mentioned the story of the Rich Young Ruler from Mark 10. In that passage, this rich guy comes up to Jesus and tells him that he’s done everything “by the book” and has always followed the rules. He asks Jesus what else he needs to do to confirm his ticket into heaven. Jesus tells him to give away all his money and come follow him. But the self-righteous rich guy walks away, quiet and disheartened because of his great wealth.
I have a difficult time giving up my money; I also had only $11 in my checking account that I didn’t want to give away, and in order to skirt my guilt I tried to convince Jae that the passage didn’t mean that God wants us to be poor. “You see, Jae, God’s given us these things: money, clothes, a college education. And not all situations call for such extreme measures, impractically abandoning our material goods. It’s case-by-case.” We eventually agreed on this.
A few months after Jae and I had this conversation, my friend Martin dropped a righteously indignant and gentle “You’re wrong as hell.”
Well, he didn’t say exactly that, but it was along those lines. I have to say that it hurt to be told I was wrong. Especially because I was thinking I was so smart talking to Princeton Jae. I am a student at UC Berkeley’s notorious Haas School of Business, where we often learn about money in our classes. As a result, I end up thinking about money a lot and about how great it is. But I was wrong about the Rich Young Ruler. And this story was not, like many of my business classes, so much about the money of the matter. The point of this story was Jesus wanting to see this rich guy’s heart. It was not simply about his wealth. Rather, it was about Jesus: he wanted the man’s whole heart, his desires, and his dreams to be Jesus. And in this case, the man’s heart was in love with his bank account, not Jesus.
The bigger question is, then, am I whole-heartedly engaging myself in Christ? If I am called to live in American suburbia, can I do so while glorifying God? If I am called to drop my $11 and jet away with my life in a suitcase, can I leave comfort for what God has called me to do? The “right” answer is: Yes. The real answer is: I hope so. Because Christ did more than this.