Try to picture yourself at the scene. None remain in their homes as news of Jesus' return to Capernaum spreads. The streets quickly fill with people running from every direction; all are in a footrace to nab a front row seat. Jesus disappears in the center of the throng. Latecomers rubberneck from the perimeter, hoping to snag some of his message and see Him perform miracles. Suddenly, the crowd parts, clearing a path for a man whose pace leaves a trailing cloud of dust until he kneels at Jesus' feet. As the dust settles, a hush falls over the crowd; they recognize the young man as one of their own, a son of Capernaum, a leader of the synagogue and one who has amassed more wealth in his yet young life than most of the citizens of Capernaum combined. Riches have not ruined him or spoiled his devotion to the Torah or his generosity toward the Synagogue. He is a "shoe-in" to make Pharisee.
Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
Hearing those words, the young man … went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
The rich young ruler was probably accustomed to Pharisees fawning over him because of his riches. Their flatteries had convinced him that pleasing God meant tithing and keeping the Ten Commandments. He thought he had everything money could buy and that religion could offer; that is until Jesus showed up.
Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, this new iconoclastic rabbi taught with authority, vanquished demons, healed the sick and raised the dead! Whenever Jesus taught, his heart would burn within him. He yearned to know God the way Jesus talked about Him. Whatever Jesus and the twelve had, the young tycoon wanted it.
He approached Jesus respectfully, in the same way he would one of the Pharisees. Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? (Matthew 19:16) Expecting Jesus to suggest a reasonable percentage, say 10%, he was caught off guard by the Son of Man’s initial response, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God. (Matthew 19:17) So much for culling favor with flattery. One assumption down, one to go.
He regained his footing when Jesus turned to a topic that was right up his alley, Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. (Luke 18:20) The Pharisees had told him as much and often affirmed his goodness. Check. Been there, done that: “All these things have I kept from my youth up.”
As “I think I can do this” formed in his thoughts, Jesus’ next statement jolted the young aristocrat’s heart like a bolt of lightning. One thing you lack … Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. (Luke 18:22) Though spoken in a normal tone of voice, Jesus’ words were louder than thunder. Evidently, he only heard the “sell everything you have and give to the poor” part, and missed the “and you will have treasure in heaven” part. “One thing I lack?!” he thought to himself, “I have everything!” He waited for option two, but it didn’t come and Jesus didn’t flinch. When he realized Jesus was serious, the young man’s countenance fell and he walked away with a sorrowful heart.
Jesus didn’t need or want the young man’s wealth. He wanted his heart. Temporal wealth is of little consequence in the economics of God’s kingdom. Jesus instructed the young man to organize a big yard sale, sell everything he owned, and give the proceeds to the poor! I can picture Judas Iscariot losing it in the background as Jesus matter-of-factly dismisses enough wealth to bankroll their ministry for the foreseeable future.
After the young man leaves, Jesus turns to His disciples and says, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:23, 24)
Rather than mangle Jesus’ words to make them fit twenty-first century American prosperity, I will leave you where the rich young ruler began, kneeling inquisitively at Jesus’ feet. What is Jesus telling you to dispense with? What has your heart? What might be keeping your camel from squeezing through the eye of Heaven’s needle?
The only one who can answer that question for you, or me, is Jesus Himself. I pray that you will find the grace to do just as He says. I pray that you will stay.
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me a sinner. I give you everything that I have and that I am and I ask you to show me how to “travel light.” Teach me to be content with what I have. Create in me a generous heart that I may give joyfully to others in need.
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