Jesus and Sinners: The Rich Young Ruler

Jesus and Sinners: The Rich Young Ruler

Jesus and Sinners: The Rich Young Ruler.

“Now a certain ruler came up to Jesus and asked Him, saying, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ … But the man was sad at what Jesus said, and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:17,22).

Please read the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-23; Luke 18:18-30.

THE CONTEXT. A rich man, probably the up and coming young rich ruler in the synagogue, approached Jesus and asked the same thing the uppity lawyer asked Jesus in the prelude to the Good Samaritan story. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus eventually gave these two men different answers. In both cases, Jesus first responded by referring to the Law. Then He gave them different answers to the same question. The Lord wanted to zero in on what each particular questioner needed to hear. This rich young ruler loved his wealth and all the trappings, so Jesus centered on that. After their brief conversation, Jesus followed up on that exchange with a simple little parable about a camel and a needle.

THE STORY. Jesus is purposefully wandering around as usual, with his customary retinue of common fishermen, devoted women, noisy children, uptight Pharisees, and any number of needy oddballs and misfits. And here approaches a well-heeled flock indeed, dutifully following a handsomely turned out young man, a ruler in a local synagogue. He enjoys a self-assured air of authority, an upper-crust aura of success. The glints of light reflecting off his jewelry are not exactly hidden under a bushel. The latest version of the iPhone is tastefully tucked into a side pocket. His loyal posse is busy doing its job: taking dictation, clearing the path of riffraff, putting his callers on hold, and setting tomorrow’s schedule. Truth be told, this young man is a respected pillar in his community, a talented leader with a bright future, and proud of his polished resume.

This rising star respectfully approaches Jesus and calls Him “Good Teacher.” Jesus responds with, “Why do you call me that? Only God is truly good, and I am much more than a mere teacher of the Law. You were wrong on both accounts.” Now the young man and Jesus overlook that shaky beginning to the interaction and proceed to get down to business. After all, the ruler does have a tight schedule. “Jesus, ever since I’ve heard about you and your message, I’ve been waiting to ask you a question. I figure I am leading a good life. I’ve obeyed all the rules. I go to Temple faithfully, have perfect attendance at the synagogue. I support my parents and give to the local charities. I wish I could give more, but you know how that is. I don’t swear, smoke, drink to excess, lie, cheat, steal or gamble. I don’t even have a wayward eye, if you know what I mean.” Warming to him, Jesus smiles while the man continues. “I have lived with virtue and excellence, I am proud to say. So, is there anything I have missed? It’s obvious to me and everyone else that God has rewarded my goodness with wealth and power. Is there anything else I need to do to inherit eternal life?”

Well, Jesus really liked this earnest, well-meaning fellow immediately. Who wouldn’t? The fine young man is the next Big Thing in town. But Jesus looks through all those impressive externals, and peers with a jeweler’s eye straight into his heart. Jesus sees a man with great gifts, good intentions, and an empty, pointless life. So Jesus uses the direct approach, with none of these confusing stories or difficult metaphors that leave people scratching their heads. “I congratulate you!” exclaims Jesus. “You’re almost there! In fact, I’d say you have only one more thing to do to gain eternal life.” Jesus hesitates now, to make sure the young man and his senior staff were truly listening. “It’s quite simple,” continues Jesus. “Give away everything you own.”

The silence was deafening. You could almost hear a penny drop. The well-spoken man was speechless. “Why so dumfounded?” Jesus asks. “You’ve been reading the Law and the Prophets all these years, and missed the whole point? Let’s look at the Big Picture, son. God the Father invests His considerable gifts and goodness into life and matter through creation for no other reason than love. And here I am, like Father, like Son, in the form of a servant, giving away my glory because of love. I have kept nothing for myself. We’ve been giving everything away, emptying ourselves, since Day One! And here you are, wondering what to do?” But Jesus is only getting warmed up.

Speaking with intense tenderness to the befuddled leader, Jesus rolls up his sleeves and lays it all on the line. “Here’s what you should do, young man. Give your hilltop mansion to the homeless shelter; your fancy clothes to Goodwill; your furniture to the Salvation Army; your gold to your synagogue; your side business to the Rescue Mission; your savings  account to the orphanage; your checking account to the nursing home; and your seaside cottage to the Retired Fisherman’s Union. Oh, and one more thing to give away… maybe the most important.” The young man gulps, wondering if there’s anything left. “Give your future to me. Follow me with no baggage.”

The young man could only stare in amazement, turn on his heels and walk sorrowfully away. He simply couldn’t do it. It was too much to ask. Jesus’ heart breaks for him as the impressive success story disappears around the bend. “I’ll give him some time,” Jesus says. “Maybe he’ll change his mind.”