A re-telling of an old story:
There was this young, hot-shot politician who was on the fast track. A sharp young man, he was shrewd enough that he wanted to cover all his religious bases. He had heard about a new preacher in town and wanted to be sure to get him on his side.
The young politician couldn't help but be impressed with the crowd that surrounded the preacher at his regular preaching time. He was more amazed that unlike other preachers, this one did Q and A with the crowd. From personal experience, the young politician knew this took courage.
The young politician worked his way to the front of the crowd, nodding, grinning and shaking hands as he went. His mind was flying about the best way to get the preacher on his side while impressing the crowd at the same time. Being a clever man, he hit upon just the right question.
When the preacher paused for a breath, the young politician spoke up, loud enough so everyone could hear him: "Preacher, you are so wise! So what do I need to do to have the best life possible?"
The preacher looked at him with a dry smile and said, "Why are you calling me wise? Only God is wise. I'll bet you already know the answer. Keep your life between the ditches. Don't kill, sleep with someone else's wife, take what doesn't belong to you, tell a lie, or cheat anyone; and do right by your Momma and Daddy."
With the perfect touch of humility and pride, the young politician said, "Preacher, I've done all that ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper."
The crowd murmured approval because this young politician had the reputation of being an upright guy. They looked at the preacher, certain he was about to heap praise on the young man.
But the preacher looked at him with a look that conveyed affection and truth. He said, "You're missing one thing. Go back to your office and put everything up for sale. Liquidate it all. Empty your bank accounts. Take all the money down to the wrong side of the tracks and give it away. When you empty your bank account, your account balance in heaven will go way up! Once you've done that, find a spiritual adventure to go on."
You could hear the air sucked in by the crowd. The young politician looked stunned. He'd come thinking he would get a high five from the preacher. Instead, he was blindsided by a reality about his life: He'd rather be rich than be right. He'd been born into money; it meant status and security. He didn't want a spiritual adventure; he wanted an endorsement of his life as it was. The preacher didn't cooperate with his agenda. With a heave of his shoulders, he turned from the preacher and headed back to the office.
Years went by. He heard how the preacher was lynched for his teachings down at the capital. Then there was the crazy news that after a few days, people saw him alive again. The crazy nuts that had sold everything and followed him were telling everyone the best life you could ever have would be to follow him. The now old politician still didn't believe it, though every now and then an ache in his soul seemed to say: "Is counting my money all there is?"
The old politician had dismissed that thought so many times, it rarely came up anymore. But whenever it did, he went back to the day of his encounter with the preacher. He made the right decision, he reminded himself. After all, what would he have gained if he gave up all his money and saved his soul?
(see the original version of this story in Mark 10:17-22).
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church, 1305 Loring Mill Road, www.adbc.org.