Saturday, April 16, 2005

What The Rich Man Lacked

by Keith Brenton

Mark says he was a man. Matthew says he was young. Luke adds that he was a ruler.

They all agree that he was rich.

Mark adds a few interesting details that the others omit, though, as they tell the story. Anxious to get into the story, Matthew and Luke omit the fact that he ran up to Jesus and fell on his knees before Him. As if something was urgent. As if only Jesus could answer him about how to get the one thing he wanted most. As if he were begging, perhaps even worshipping, the One whom he intends to ask:

"Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"Why do you call Me good? Why do you ask Me about good?" Jesus answered. "Only God is good. - You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother ..."

And of the Top Ten of the 613 precepts and commandments they would have both memorized for their bar mitzvahs, Jesus named only five of the six dealing with interpersonal relationships, and none of the first four about relating to God. Giving the young man the benefit of the doubt, perhaps, concerning those first ones - as if they go without saying - He omitted Number Ten and made it conspicuous by its absence: "Don't covet."

"All of these I have kept since I was a boy," the man responded.

Then Mark gives us a detail no one else chooses to: that Jesus - looking at him - loved him.

We don't know who the man was. No one gives his name. Each of the Synoptic writers is stingy with details. And of all the people Jesus encountered, only this man is described as someone Jesus loved on sight. Wouldn't you like to have that fact associated with your name, recorded in scripture and preserved for all time? That Jesus looked at you and loved you?

It makes me wonder if the young man was John Mark himself. As with his unique account of the young man who abandoned Jesus upon His arrest, leaving behind a (doubtless expensive) linen garment someone had grabbed, Mark does not name the "man" who ran up to Jesus and fell on his knees whom He loved at first sight. Some scholars have wondered if the naked coward was Mark. His mother was wealthy enough to have a house that would hold "many people" praying for the release of Peter and John. Was it his wealth that kept drawing John Mark back home when he later became a missionary? Was he too embarrassed to identify himself as the young man Jesus loved?

Who could have more distinctly seen the look of love meant for him than the one kneeling down and gazing desperately up into the eyes of Jesus?

Whether the rich young ruler was John Mark or not, Jesus certainly did love him. And if he had followed all 613 precepts and commandments, he would have been generous in his giving and his hospitality, as the second tablets of stone required. Jesus doesn't dispute his claim to have obeyed them all. But it was not enough. So Jesus told him:

"One thing you lack. Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. You'll be perfect. Then come follow me."

Now we discover why this poor fellow isn't named. It would have been cruel to do so. Because his face fell, and he got up, and he went away sadly ... because he was very wealthy, and had a lot of stuff.

It's not something that Jesus tells everyone to do. Not quite. Although He does teach "Sell what you have and give to the poor," He doesn't include the word "all" or "everything." It seems to be more like advice, to open one's self to the joy of sacrificial giving.

But to the rich young ruler, He says "all" or "everything." Why? Was it because if he tried to follow but kept all his stuff, he would always be looking back from the plow? Because he would not be able to understand Jesus' call to perfection through sacrifice of self? And that treasure in heaven is never susceptible to moths or rust or theft? That perfection and salvation and eternal life are never about what you do or have, but about the gift you receive?

Whatever the reason, he turned his back on the One who loved him. What a heartbreaking moment that must have been for Jesus - to see the young man turn and go! Possibly He couldn't bear to watch. He turned to His followers and said: "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven! Children, how hard it is!" Was He fighting back tears? It almost seems like he tried to lift His own spirit with a weak joke: "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!"

Perhaps it wasn't a joke, though. His followers didn't think it was funny. They believed in the cheap grace gospel; that God blesses those who obey with wealth and power - why, that rich young man would have been a prime proof for them! They were amazed and blurted out to each other, "Well, who then can be saved?"

They had no concept what they were to be saved from. Jesus did. "With men this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God."

Peter stepped up to the challenge, to reassure himself and the others of their salvation: "But we've left everything to follow You!" (They had: even their families; Peter perhaps left his wife and her mother behind when they traveled.)

Now Jesus was reassuring, but with a note of warning as well: "You can depend on this: No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields - and with them persecutions) and in the age to come, unending life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

Then, following up on the gloomy mood which had taken Him again, He predicted His death and His resurrection and His plan ... His plan to give up everything He had, including His life, so that others could live forever with God.

I left out something. Did you catch what it was?

Jesus told the rich young ruler - the man who had everything - that there was one thing he lacked.

He never told him what it was.

What do you think the rich man lacked?

What was the one thing he wanted most?

And what was keeping him from it?

- from the accounts in Mark, Matthew and Luke


Blogger Brandon Moore said...

YES! This passage has been constantly on my mind in the last two weeks. I'm just so that man. So scared to give it up, so worried about what I can do to live eternally. What if I was so consumend by Christ that I wouldn't even care what I was giving up.

4/16/2005 07:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Baron said...

Taking it at face value, it looks like the material wealth was preventing him from having treasure in heaven. It seems that he had a bunch of things that God blessed him with, but he didn't have treasure in heaven. To get that, he had to sell of everything he owned and follow Jesus.

To me, that doesn't mean that we all have to sell of everything we own. Instead, it seems as if Jesus is intimating that there are, perhaps, a variety of ways to have treasure in heaven. For the RYR, however, this was the way to get the thing he lacked.

It is not perfect, I know. However, it seems to make sense in the context of the passage. It would be as if you were asking me what you must do to have a valid will. Perhpas you bring me a document detailing your desires, and I respond, "you still lack one thing, go to a notary and sign the document in front of two witnesses who also sign the document. Then you will have a valid will."

This is not the only way to have a valid will, but it certainly will work. This is kind of the message I get from the passage.

I would be interested to know what you think he was missing. I like to know the insights of others...

5/01/2005 05:27:00 PM  
Blogger Keith Brenton said...

I'm not sure I know. I don't think he lacked generosity or hospitality - since Jesus didn't refute the young man's claim to have followed all of the law since his youth. I can think of several things he lacked: a walk with Jesus (what he should have wanted most), the faith to sell his stuff and follow, the courage to do without, the will to discover what it is like to be in need ... well, lots of things.

5/02/2005 02:58:00 PM  

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