When discipleship stops short

By William McCartney - Your Pastor Speaks

North of Akron is (or maybe was) a great tower that reached well above surrounding buildings – including the church building for which it was to be a functioning part. Unfortunately, the congregation ran out of money before completing the tower. What a heartache for the people.

Any task that’s only half done is unfortunate. Such incompletions also can happen with non-tangible projects. It can be an educational goal interrupted before completed. It can be a sports career cut short due to an injury. It can be a happy marriage destroyed because of infidelity.

One of Scriptures’ sad stories is found in Mark 10:17-22. Entitled “The Rich Man,” it tells of one who was faithful to many aspects of religious devotion. Unfortunately, Jesus said the man lacked one thing. Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. Verse 22 records what happened then. “When he heard this, he was shocked, and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”

Please note: I don’t believe Jesus means to generalize that command to demand everyone reduce themselves to poverty to serve others. I do believe, however, that Jesus understood that this particular man’s fidelity to God was compromised by his inordinate concern for his possessions.

Nevertheless, I believe Jesus was suggesting that we’re all tempted by something(s) that “protect(s)” us from our full commitment to God. At a frivolous level, I often kid that those who sit in the back of the church do so in order to keep God at a distance.

However, I’m not being frivolous in my conviction that all of us are tempted – in some way – to stop short in our faith commitment, in our devotion to God. Perhaps this can be seen most more clearly in how we live up to Jesus’ “Great Commandment.”

Jesus told us to “love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.” Then he added that we’re to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” He morphed those two commands into one in order to emphasis that our love for God is evidenced – by our love for others. Jesus knew, only too well, that it’s easy for many to claim devotion to God, but it’s much more difficult to validate that devotion by how we treat others. And remember. Jesus identified the “neighbor” as even the despised Samaritan. In fact, Jesus even told us to love our enemies.

Unfortunately, we live in a world of “fractured faith.” We live in a time when too many people, who claim devotion to God, stop short of fulfilling the great commandment’s demand that our love encompasses all of God’s people. We all yearn for a world of greater loyalty to God. But alas, many faithful persons stop short of fulfilling Jesus’ command to love generously all of God’s people.

We live in a world that not only lacks nearly enough love of neighbor, but in a society that’s often intent to find reasons to disdain, reject, even hate others – who also are God’s people. It’s tragic enough when one nation goes to war against another. It’s more disheartening when too many in our society, including many elected officials, so easily discredit others, and find ways to spew hatred against those who have traits, or skin color, or views, or whatever that are different from theirs.

In our lesson from Mark, the rich man went away sorrowful – because he could not do all that Jesus asked of him. We dare not miss the reality, however, that Jesus also was sorrowful that the man stopped short of full commitment to God.

Let’s not truncate our devotion to Christ. Let’s not disappoint God by stopping short of full discipleship.


By William McCartney

Your Pastor Speaks

Rev. William McCartney is a retired United Methodist minister and a professor emeritus of the Methodist Theological School in Ohio.

Rev. William McCartney is a retired United Methodist minister and a professor emeritus of the Methodist Theological School in Ohio.