If you have spent any amount of time in church, whether Sundayschool, Bible school, worship service, prayer meeting, small group, big group, church camp, dinner on the ground, committee meetings, committee on committee meetings, you get the idea, you have probably heard the story about the Rich Young Man and his encounter with Jesus.
We all come away feeling sorry for the man, just like Jesus did. But before you get over feeling bad for the man, have you ever seen yourself in him? No? You say you’re not rich? Really, compared to what?
Now there are different levels of wealth and at some point it’s about perspective. According to an article from the Daily Mail dated 2012, the average global median income is $1225.00 per year. So while we may not consider ourselves to be “rich”, there are a bunch of folks around the world that would probably beg to differ. And when you consider the things that really matter and really have value, we are richer than we can appreciate and sometimes admit.
The Rich Young Man comes to Jesus right after Jesus had spent time with some little children. Now don’t miss this, Jesus had said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14b & 15 NIV). So He tells us it will take the faith of a child to enter the kingdom. Then enters the Rich Young Man.
The Rich Young Man comes up to Jesus, in the book of Mark it says he fell at Jesus’ feet, and asks, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17 NIV). Jesus immediately sees right through him and asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18 NIV).
Jesus, being the Son of God, knows that he is seeking justification. This can’t be the response the man expected to receive. Jesus then tells him, “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” (Luke 19:17b NIV). And at this point, you have to wonder if the man was panicked because he asked, “Which ones?”
Now I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, although I have cut myself with one a time or two, but to ask the Son of God which commandments should I keep? Now I have asked some bonehead questions in my life, so I can really identify with him here. But what answer did he think he would get? Did he think Jesus would say, “Keep these but the others aren’t that big a deal?” Granted there was no way he could keep all of the laws that the Pharisees had come up with but asking God Himself which of His laws he should keep?
Bonhoeffer wrote, “The very devil lurks beneath this question. The young man knew he was caught in a trap, and this was his only way out……The revelation of the commandments is ambiguous, not clear, says the young man. Once again he does not see the commandments except in relation to himself and his own problems and conflicts.” (The Cost of Discipleship, page 72).
It is not unlike the question that the serpent asked in the Garden, “Did God really say?” Before that question the commands of God had been clear and observed with childlike faith. At this question “doubt and reflection take the place of spontaneous obedience.” How often in our lives do we question what we know to be true and seek justification for our behavior? Probably more than we care to admit.
“‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother’, and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 19:18b & 19 NIV).
The Rich Young Man responds that he has kept all these since he was a boy. But he still didn’t get the answer he wanted and expected. How often do we find ourselves in the same place, not getting the answer we wanted?
Then Jesus hit the rich young man right where he lived and right where many of us lived.
“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Luke 18:22(NIV).
In the book of Mark, it says that Jesus looked at him and loved him before He spoke. How often do we love people enough to speak truth in their lives? How often do we just let things slide or condone behavior because we are afraid of upsetting them? We may do it often, Jesus never did.
The rich young man loved his “stuff” more than he loved God. How sad? But how many of us love our “stuff” just like he did. It may actually be money, or cars, or a house, or clothes, or a job, or anything. Jesus tells us that we can’t love anything more than Him, that nothing can be between Him and us. Will He ask us to sell everything and give to the poor? Maybe, maybe not. But He calls those who claim to be His to “follow Him.” No question. The same call he gave Peter and Matthew, and they dropped everything and followed Him. The same call he gave to the Rich Young Man, who walked away because he wasn’t willing to let go. What is more childlike; loving our stuff or loving Jesus?
“The call to follow means here what it had meant before – adherence to the person of Jesus Christ and fellowship with him. The life of discipleship is not the hero-worship we would pay to a good master, but obedience to the Son of God.”
The question is simple: Are you running to your stuff or to the Cross?