Jesus routinely attracted people to himself who wanted to know how they could be justified before God, how they could go to heaven. In this particular case, there was a young man who was rich who came to Jesus asking this very question:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, he asked.
Jesus begins to talk about the commandments that God has given in what we would today call the Ten Commandments and the man affirms that he has kept all of these commandments, even from when he was a young boy.
But Jesus tells him that he is missing something…
What could it be? Finally, the man may have been thinking, I will understand what I really need to do! I knew something was missing, even though I have been keeping God’s commandments, the man may have thought.
Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”Luke 18:22
The young man’s face falls and he becomes sad. He couldn’t do that. That is a step much too far.
Let’s get the right lesson
What is it that Jesus was actually trying to teach the man?
Was he saying that you cannot be rich and go to heaven? No, I don’t think that this was the lesson. King David, while also a sinner, was a rich man and God called him a man after his own heart.
Is the lesson that we must do social justice and through this work we can go to heaven? No, this isn’t the lesson either. The last instruction from Jesus to the man is to follow him, so the issue really isn’t giving money to the poor. Giving the money is just a step in the right direction of following Jesus.
So what is it? What is it that Jesus is really saying that the man lacks?
The problem with this man is that his heart is divided. He loves his life. He loves his wealth. He wants a little bit of God, but he wants all that he has as well. He wants his life AND what God has to offer.
But the problem is this: God does not want to share us. He doesn’t want just a part of us. He wants all of us.
Jesus wants this man to act like the man in the parable that Jesus recounted in Matthew 13. He said that the kingdom of God was like a treasure that a man found in a field and, with joy, went and sold everything that he owned to buy the field and obtain the treasure. Jesus wants this rich man to act like the man in the parable. He wants the man to recognize that eternal life is worth everything that the man has to offer. It is worth selling everything to obtain that treasure. He wants the man to give himself completely to Jesus.
But the man won’t do it. When he looks at the treasure in the field, in this case inheriting eternal life, he doesn’t think it is worth it. Instead, he has decided to believe that his riches today are worth much more than living with God forever.
And for us?
It might be easy for us to criticize this man. How could he be so stupid? Doesn’t he realize that he is turning down an opportunity to live eternally? How short-sighted could he be?
But don’t we do the exact same thing?
Don’t we make decisions every day based on short-term thinking?
Don’t we often value the things of today instead of eternity?
My physical life of a few short years instead of my spiritual life of eternity?
Yes, of course we do. We frequently live like this rich young man. We frequently think like him.
Let’s instead live like the man who found the treasure in the field. Let’s live like the one who values the kingdom of God above all other things. Let’s live as a people who are willing to sell it all, give it to the poor, and go and follow Jesus wherever he may lead.