A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother.”’ He replied, ‘I have kept all these since my youth.’ When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’ Then Peter said, ‘Look, we have left our homes and followed you.’ And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’
When the rich young man asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus lists some commandments, but interestingly leaves out the two most important ones. The young man says he has been keeping these laws, but Jesus then asks him to give all his wealth to the poor. The young man walks away sad because he is rich.
This event serves to illustrate that though the young man thought he was keeping all the commandments, he wasn’t adhering to the spirit of them. He failed to show love to his neighbour by relinquishing his worldly possessions, as Jesus had asked him to. He also failed to love God by walking away from Jesus’ invitation to “come, follow me.”
How many times have we patted ourselves on the back, thinking ourselves to be truly righteous rule-followers, when in actual fact we have failed to live in love? As a chaplain, working on the railways and for the police, I see part of my job as helping people to think about their obligations to each other as well as to their jobs. In aspects such as safety, the two overlap, as a worker will seek to obey the safety procedures out of a sense of duty to the rules and also to their co-workers. But the overriding sense is a commitment to keeping one another safe out of a feeling of concern for them, not because of what the rules say.
Another question arises relating to the importance the young man places on his wealth and possessions, and we get some more insight into this when we read Matthew 6. Jesus makes it clear that there is a choice to be made in the young man’s case. On the one hand he can hang onto his money – on the other he can hang onto Jesus. He can’t do both. Which one is to be his master in the end?
Lord Jesus, help us to always be sensitive to the needs of those around us. Although you do not ask all of us to give up all we own, please prompt us by your Spirit to be generous with what you have graciously given us, be that money, possessions, time or talent. And may none of us give our trust and devotion to the wrong master, but always turn to you in humility. Amen
Andrea Smyth, Lay Chaplain for Railway Mission, member of Beaconsfield URC.