Sunday, June 26, 2011

When God Calls: Part III

The Call of the Rich Young Man
Luke 18:18-23

Heinrich Hofmann, "Christ and the Rich Young Ruler"
The reader of this Gospel passage cannot be certain what in particular led the rich young man—a ruler—to inquire of Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Perhaps he was among those who had been listening to Jesus’ parables and teachings—about praying and not losing heart; about not considering oneself righteous; and about the need to receive the Kingdom of God as a little child. As for us, the initial call from God to this ruler was made in the quiet of the man’s own heart.

As a rich young man, as one who did not need to toil for a living, he was already keenly aware that everything he had came to him by inheritance. It is possible that his father had died, leaving the young man everything owned by his father. If so, he knew first-hand that all he possessed would be given to his descendents when he himself died. So in spite of everything he had that came to him by his father, the rich young man was painfully aware that all his possessions could not spare him from death, just as it could not spare his father from it. He clearly wants something that not even his father and all his possessions could give him: to live forever.

It would seem that this rich young man is also righteous according to the Law, as he tells Jesus that he has kept all the commandments from his earliest days. But he also seems to sense that Jesus’ own righteousness is above his own. He calls Jesus “good,” with Jesus then responding that, “only God is good.”

But when Jesus tells this rich young man, “there is still one thing you lack,” and that is, that he should sell everything he has, give it to the poor, and then come and follow Him, the man became sad. This was not what he had expected to hear or had hoped for. He was looking to do something in addition to what he had already been doing, not to change his life—and certainly not to give up everything. The man heard Jesus’ call, but refused it.

Perhaps this young man had found it possible to keep all of the commandments because he had never lacked anything in his life. He was rich and powerful. He did not have to take any other man’s wife (adultery), life (murder), or possessions (steal), or bear false witness in order to get what he wanted or needed. He also had always given honor to the father and the mother who had provided for his every need. If he were now to give up everything, then he would be faced with his own needs, weaknesses, and passions. But that is why Jesus did not merely say, “Sell all you have and give it to the poor.” He also told the man that once he had done that, “then follow Me.” It was not the giving to the poor that would lead the man eternal life, but rather it would be the following of Jesus—which would mean a complete reliance on Jesus for everything.