The next account in Mathew's gospel describes a curious encounter with Jesus. Not unlike the disciples who stiff arm the children, I think we often discount this next individual with equal disdain. But should we?
He is the Rich Young Ruler and by piecing all the gospel accounts together, we learn 5 important characteristics about this person.
- First, and most obvious, he is wealthy. So much so that both the author and the people seem to know this about him.
- But he is also young. Probably not more than 40 years old. So the wealth he has accumulated seems to have been acquired by some level of expertise and early success over a relatively short period of time.
- And his early success has brought prominence. He was a man of high reputation, some suggesting he likely served as a religious leader since they most certainly held the balance of power and wealth in this culture.
- Yet despite his success, he was still virtuous. His response to Jesus's inquiry indicates he was diligent to keep the letter of the law.
- And he was humble as reflected in his reverent posture before Jesus when he runs to kneel at the feet of a great teacher.
So before we relegate the young man as decadent fool, unworthy to approach our Savior, let us appreciate his posture. For, despite his wealth, he still had the good sense to know that there was more. His search for the assurance of eternal life could not be found in his wallet. He was aware of his spiritual poverty, he was seeking truth and he rightly assumed Jesus would have the answer. He was eager to learn from the master even at the expense of his high reputation, kneeling in humility before a man who, by the world's standard, was not fit to tie his sandal.
And also notice he wasn't looking for a list of things to do. He asked for "one thing". His life was complicated enough and he seemed to understand that the answer he was looking for was quite simple. Perhaps he learned this from being open and attentive to the message that Jesus had been sharing with the people. Maybe he heard Jesus tell the disciples that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children. Maybe he was listening so intently that he understood the answer given by Jesus better than the disciples themselves. "If children can enter the kingdom of heaven, then what must I do to receive this same assurance?" With childlike eagerness he runs to kneel at the feet of Jesus.
Jesus responds with gentle tenderness. He leads the man to a predetermined destination intended to reveal his true motivation. A motivation likely imperceptible by the man himself and so Jesus gives him a list to examine - a mirror to self examine the heart. He instructs the man to keep the commandments to which the young man replies, "Which ones?" Jesus then lists commandments 5-9 and then adds a verse from Leviticus 19:18 as a summary.
The commands Jesus reveals all refer to our obligation to one another. They represent the horizontal relationships with other people. It seems that what Jesus is telling the man is echoes by John when he writes, "If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen." (1Jn 4:20)
At first glance, it appears as if Jesus is giving a prescription for entrance into the kingdom. A list of things to do in order to gain God's favor. But closer examination reveals a principle, not a prescription. He is leading this man to place of introspection where the motivation of his heart will be revealed. And to his credit, the young man is following. Jesus knew this individual and he even knew how he would respond to the question. In fact, I believe he wanted him to look at the list and check each one off and yet still be confronted with his dissatisfaction. Notice the other part of his response to Jesus, "All these I have kept...what do I still lack?"
It's as if he is telling Jesus, "I have done everything I am supposed to do. I have followed the commandments diligently. My life must be pleasing to God...but I am still empty. What am I missing?"
Jesus has brought the man to a place of true confession. He is seeking truth and Truth is staring him in the face. He has sought the "one good thing" and Jesus desires for him to embrace the only One who is good. The man is looking for a practice and Jesus is introducing him to a person. His practice has left him empty, but Jesus can make him full. Here is the offer:
"Sell all you have, give it to the poor and come, follow me."
The moment of truth. The man now sees himself as he has never known before. Jesus has led him to a place of introspection where he can truly see what is required. In his mind, he must have realized, "It's not about the list is it? ... That is why I am still empty. ... I must abandon all I have and trust Jesus alone...................I cannot."
On one hand, we must respect the honest response of the man. On the other, we must weep for his hardened heart. The Savior has offered Himself...the man has turned to go his own way.
The man wanted his treasure and the kingdom too. He was unwilling to relinquish his control and trust in the unseen provision promised by Jesus. That is the difference between him and the children. His security was in his hands. As for the children, their security was in His hands.
Where do we find out peace and security. At least the young man was honest...are you?