Luke 18: 18-30.
And he was questioned by a certain leading person with these words:
“Good teacher, what should I be doing to inherit “eternal life” – the fulness of life henceforth?”
And Jesus replied to him: “Why do you call me good? You know the commandments: you shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not engage in falseood; honour your father and your mother.”
And he replied: “All these things I have been keeping [diligently] since my youth.”
And when he heard this, Jesus said to him, “Yet there is one thing that you lack. Of everything that you own, go and sell it all, distribute to those in need of it and you shall have treasure in heaven and come follow me.”
And on hearing this he became mighily grieved, for he was exceedingly rich.
And noting the impact of what he had said, Jesus said,”How instinctively resistant are those with riches to their entrance into the Kingdom of God [what a difficult time those with [extensive] property have with entering the Kingdom of God]. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man of great wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”
And those [who were then] listening said: “But then who can be rescued?” And he said: “Such things that men find to be impossible are possible with God.”
In response to this teaching, Peter said, “We have followed you by leaving our life behind [and we are in your hands].”
And his reply to this was: “It is true what I tell you. There is no one who has left household or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God who will not receive already many times over in this life, and in the life to come life perpetual.”
This is one of the most well-known of all Bible stories. This rich fellow knew well enough that his inheritance did not make any difference in God’s eyes. He was rich and powerful and wanted to know more about the inheritance God provides to those who do what God calls them to do. So what should he be doing? That is what he asked.
Jesus explained that God’s generosity would mean he had to give his own inheritance away. But the fellow’s countenance fell when he heard this. He turned away rather than trust Jesus for his treasure in heaven. Jesus then proceeded to teach His disciples the meaning of this discussion, showing sympathy for this man.
It is so hard, isn’t it, for those who are rich to enter God’s kingdom?
This fine fellow had walked away, sad. And Jesus was sad too. Mark, in his version of the encounter, says that Jesus loved the man. He understood how hard it was for him. Read it over … slowly. Jesus had just told His disciples that they must welcome the children.
The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these!
Mark has told us that this fellow ran up to Jesus. This was a request full of energy and urgent. Perhaps he had heard reports from servants and had decided he wanted Jesus for his Rabbi. He had inherited a lot of wealth, a man of his community, respected by all. He wanted to eye-ball Jesus for himself.
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
This, in the context of all that was going on as Jesus went up to Jerusalem was courageous. He was admitting to Jesus that he did not have it all, that he did not fully understand the law and the prophets. He was asking Jesus to tell him what to do.
Jesus was friendly. He didn’t say:
“Oh you’ve got money. Oh well that means you can’t be interested in what I have to say.”
Jesus was no snob. He was open and friendly and replied by asking a question.
Why do you call me good?
Jesus did not expect the young wealthy ruler to answer. He continued:
No one is good but God alone. You’ll know the commandments!
But for us here at this point in Luke’s account, our question is about the inclusion of the story in the narrative tracing Jesus’ procession up to Jerusalem.
Jesus seems to be saying to him that he doesn’t need to play games. If this young ruler thinks that Jesus is a good teacher then he will get to the issue and not just be polite. Jesus was severe, in a kindly way. It was an open and public test. The young man wanted to show his respect for Jesus. Jesus knew what this young man needed.
He was close, very close, to the Kingdom of God, and it is here in the record because later the disciples would look back and remember that this man had almost become one of them at that time. Remember Jesus’ reply to John when the fellow healing in the name of Christ had not joined them (9:49-50)? That fellow didn’t need to join their group as they went up to Jerusalem. But Jesus did want this young man to come along; this rich young man was persistent.
Rabbi! I have observed all the commandments and have continued to do so since I was young!
Jesus was persistent too. His love went all the way. He challenged him to the utmost. This man was deeply committed to God’s law. He had great wealth, an important social position. His served his community. He was a good guy.
But you lack one thing!
Can you imagine this? Did the crowd go silent? Was there a pause? Did those listening take a deep breath. Was Jesus asking him to become their sponsor?
Sell up! Cash in your inheritance! Give it to those who are in real need. Give all the proceeds to the poor. That way you can count on having treasure in heaven. You will have a guaranteed inheritance in the Kingdom of God and then follow me!
This was a wealthy young man with a big inheritance, not from tax collecting but from his father and grand-father. His brothers and sisters would share in this wealth. He could provide for his own family, his wife and children, for life. But Jesus said:
Give it all up. Sell up. Give the proceeds to the poor …
And this he was unable to do! He was an important man in his community; he was like a mayor, a big property owner. He went away sad. We don’t know exactly why it was too hard for him. But it was. Perhaps he would anger his wife and children, his father and brothers. Whatever the reason was he went away sad. He could not take Jesus’ advice to inherit the Kingdom of God. He turned away sad but kept his wealth.
Maybe by the time Luke included this story, this man was better known to those following Jesus. We know his great sorrow about not being able to follow Jesus. But sorrow is not something that wealthy people will publicly display. So I have a hunch, a question. Is this man somewhere else in the various books and stories of the New Testament. We may not know who he is or whether he eventually took up Jesus’ offer and became an inheritor of the Kingdom of God. This we do not know. What we know of his story is this sad moment.
Rich people find it hard to follow Jesus. They think they have too much to lose. They think they have to control what they have been given. They think that to follow Jesus under such circumstances is irresponsible. But when Jesus calls us to follow Him we need to be sure that it is not our wealth – whatever that is – which controls us.
But the encounter is reported here by Luke to add to the account of what he reports about Jesus’ teaching as he proceeded on his way to Jerusalem. Luke is presenting Theophilus with a pretty comprehensive account of the disclosure of the full character of the Kingdom of God as Jesus teaches, and as he and his disciples meet various people “along the way”. Here is a further chapter in Luke’s account of Jesus’ “royal progress” through Samaria and Galilee and Judaea.
Next we will recapitulate how this account of Jesus’ encounter with the wealthy community leader fits into the account of the Good News Luke is telling us:
18th January 2017.