17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" 20And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." 21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
This little nugget of scripture has tormented me for years now. Trying to unwrap it, trying to find out what Jesus was really saying. When he asked the rich young man to “…sell all that you have and give to the poor…,” was he being literal? I know it really shouldn’t be hard to figure out. A short fifteen minute look into my study bible and a review of some commentaries reveals the two fold message Jesus was relaying to the rich young ruler in this dialogue. One, there is only one thing that is truly good and that is God. This is shown when, instead of answering the man’s question, Jesus corrects the rich young ruler for addressing him as “Good Teacher.” Two, following on that theme Jesus dispels the myth that the rich young ruler could somehow earn his way to heaven. To understand this fully we must look at the description of the guy Jesus was talking to; he was rich, he was young, he was a ruler, most likely a religious leader in the synagogue at the time. This is why Jesus immediately brought up the commandments, knowing that they would be high on this guy’s list and as follows the rich young ruler affirms, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Jesus then turned his world upside down when he asks the question that reveals to the man that he has not even kept the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3)
What I love about this passage is when it says, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” While the message was hard to bear for the guy, it was not Jesus’ intent to hurt him, embarrass him or prove him wrong for his own selfish purposes. He said it because he loved him and he knew the paradigm shift that was taking place in the history of salvation. He was simply pointing out that possessions were this dude’s god and as long as that was the case then he would not even begin to see the doorstep of heaven. Jesus was revealing faults to a man who until this point pretty much felt faultless, even though deep down he knew there was a disconnect between he and God, which is why he asked the question in the first place.
So why does this torment me so? I mean I get it. I understand the concept that I am nothing and He is everything. I comprehend that it is only through God that I can obtain salvation and I have accepted that. However, I still deal with the problem that I know in my heart there is some bit of me that hangs on to the same god worshiped by the rich you ruler. Granted, the story unfolding Jesus death, resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the pages following Mark 10 radically changed the dynamics of my situation and that of the rich young ruler when it comes to salvation, but that is a different conversation. However, the Spirit still stirs in me the same disheartening feeling that I know the rich young ruler felt when faced with the task of giving all he had to the poor.
So here in lies the torment that troubles me so. What do I do with that disheartening feeling and why do I have that when truthfully my demographic does not exactly fit that of the rich young ruler, i.e. not rich (or so I thought), apparently no longer young (see gray hair and comments from some younger people I know) and not a ruler (at least not in the sense of the rich young ruler)?
As much as I would like answer this and many other ponderings in my mind it is getting late and I unfortunately have the inability to process my thoughts and the passions that God lays upon my heart without laying the ground work for a novel comparable in size to War and Peace. Alas, a great book I am reading Radical, by David Platt is shedding some light on this dilemma and this is something I must still figure out and will continue to work through in the days to come.