Lessons From the Rich, Young Ruler


Today’s Our Daily Bread title is, “Giving It To God.” So, what is, “It,” and why? Let’s put the account of, “The Rich, Young Ruler,” under a magnifying glass to find out.

All three synoptic gospels cover this event, so we know it is note-worthy. Luke said the guy was a ruler, though he didn’t mention his jurisdiction. Matthew and Mark said he was young, which agrees with his inquisitiveness. As an aside, have you ever noticed that as we age we tend to “know” everything worth knowing? Truth is, when we quit learning we quit growing, and anything that has quit growing is dead. You may think you’ve quit growing because you haven’t grown taller in years, but your cells keep reproducing to replace any damaged or dead cells, or if you’re a body builder you are growing muscle mass (to impress the opposite sex or enhance your self-worth?). Anyway, let’s see what we can learn from that inquisitive leader.

  • The young man ran up and knelt before Jesus (Mark 10:17), showing that he was desperate to learn, and considered Jesus his superior.
  • He called Jesus, “good Teacher,” showing his esteem for him.
  • He said, “What shall I do …?” which from the outset was the wrong question. So Jesus answered it anyway, but not in the way the young man would have preferred.
  • He used the phrase, “inherit eternal life,” demonstrating that he realized simply being a religiously faithful Jew didn’t entitle him to gain eternal life.
  • Jesus asked him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but one: God.” (Mark 10:18) Jesus gave him the choice of either retracting his “good” statement, or admitting that Jesus was God. But Jesus left that hanging, as he narrowed in on his instruction.
  • Jesus said, “You know the commandments ….” And Matthew’s narration has him saying, “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The young man follows that with, “Which ones? (Mark 10:19)
  • Then Jesus obliges him with six of the Ten Commandments (five in Luke). Matthew adds part of the Great Commandment, making it seven (Matthew 19:18-19). Mark’s account extrapolates “Do not covet,” to “Do not defraud,” in the spirit of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
  • Matthew’s account quotes the young man as replying, “All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?” Mark and Luke leave out the question, which is implied. We can safely infer that the religious young man sensed he was falling short of God’s requirements, despite his faithful obedience to Moses’ Law. That speaks … no … screams of religion’s impotence in the spiritual realm. Matthew’s inclusion of, “love your neighbor as yourself,” plows even closer to God’s true requirements for receiving eternal life, but it’s still no cigar (so to speak). So, what in this guy’s religious observance is still lacking?
  • “Sell what you have,” as in, liquidate your possessions, “and give to the poor.” Please note that Jesus didn’t say, “make the check out to, J-E-S-U-S–S-O-N–O-F–J-O-S-E-P-H.” So, where would the money have gone? Straight to heaven, via the stomachs of those who couldn’t otherwise eat. That’s what “love your neighbor as yourself” truly means. Should Jesus have considered the possibility of creating a welfare class of “po folks” who feel entitled to support? Of course not! In those days people were rarely poor due to their own laziness. Unlike today, able-bodied people always found at least menial work sufficient to keep themselves from starving.
  • So, how did this rich young ruler respond to Jesus’ advice? He walked away dejected, as it was just too much to ask. His response typifies today’s attitude toward possessions. Of course, that’s only the unbelievers’ attitude. Right? Sorry, but wrong. Simply persuading today’s pew-sitters to tithe is a major chore, let alone prying them loose from their excess possessions. Most churches have to beg and plead for the funds necessary to keep the lights on and the preacher’s kids in shoes. This should not be!

Have we learned nothing over the years of hearing this true story from our pulpits? Apparently, most of us have missed Jesus’ lesson. We conservatives constantly bellyache about our federal welfare state, yet few of us are willing to sacrifice our affluent lifestyles to give genuinely needy people a godly alternative. Are cars, entertainment systems, toys, recreational activities and “financial security” really important enough to disobey our Lord Jesus for them?

We call ourselves “Christian,” but we ignore Jesus’ Great Commandment. How does that work?

We praise God with emotional tears and uplifted hands, but we refuse to glorify him with our abilities, and the funds we derive from them. We act like self-made men, owing nothing to anyone—including God—for what we can do, and still we wonder why God’s church is stalled in its advance against hell’s gates.

I find myself asking, “Do I truly belong to heaven, standing in Jesus’ presence for eternity? Or does my self-centered attitude actually belong in hell?”

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