Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23
But He Was Such a Nice Guy
People often think that Jesus received everyone who came to him, but today we see this is simply not true. We must understand the cost of following Jesus. And remember that we are not dealing here with a parable, but an actual event.
This man, whom we call the “rich young ruler,” seems to be an ordinary guy, certainly better than most. He comes running up to Jesus, kneels, and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, who has no time for our flattering social conventions, informs him that only One is truly good. (We must remember that when Jesus was in the body, he was in his humble state and referred all glory to the Father.) At any rate, Jesus directs the man to the commandments, primarily the “second table,” which refers to how we should treat other people. The man responds that he has kept all of these from his youth. We need not accuse this man of lying; he no doubt means that he has kept these commandments in his actions towards others. He can honestly say that he has never committed adultery, stolen, falsely accused someone else, and has honored his parents. Matthew adds that Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Again, even in affirming this, we need not think the man claiming to be perfect, but only that he generally behaves with kindness towards other people.
Then Mark writes that Jesus looked at this man with love. Jesus was not angry with this man or mocking him; instead he knew exactly where to touch him in the place that would strip him of all of his assumed goodness and social standing. I want to emphasize that this was not a “bad” guy. The fact is that he is like most of us, only for some reason faring a little better, having inherited his money or worked hard at his profession. Indeed, I think he is exactly like most people, a man just getting along in life who wants to do good and hopefully get to heaven. So how to do this? Well, in the midst of the nice clothes and talk, Jesus meets his hypocrisy head on: You’re addicted to your possessions; you just don’t know it because you assume that you are so, well, okay. Let’s see about that: Sell everything you’ve worked hard to get, give it to the poor, and come follow me. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And in one fell swoop, all of this man’s pretenses, all of the nice things he thought about himself, come crashing down. He can’t do this. This is asking too much. And in walking away, he proves Jesus’ words: he was not the nice man he thought himself to be, nor was he ready to inherit eternal life. So what is it that blinds us to our pretenses?