A Rich and Important Man
(Matthew 19.16-30; Mark 10.17-31)
18An important man asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?”
19Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Be faithful in marriage. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not tell lies about others. Respect your father and mother.’ ”
21He told Jesus, “I have obeyed all these commandments since I was a young man.”
22When Jesus heard this, he said, “There is one thing you still need to do. Go and sell everything you own! Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower.” 23When the man heard this, he was sad, because he was very rich.
24Jesus saw how sad the man was. So he said, “It's terribly hard for rich people to get into God's kingdom! 25In fact, it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God's kingdom.”
26When the crowd heard this, they asked, “How can anyone ever be saved?”
27Jesus replied, “There are some things that people cannot do, but God can do anything.”
28Peter said, “Remember, we left everything to be your followers!”
29Jesus answered, “You can be sure that anyone who gives up home or wife or brothers or family or children because of God's kingdom 30will be given much more in this life. And in the future world they will have eternal life.”
What’s with Jesus? Can’t he accept a compliment? After all he was a “good” (in fact sinless) person. And his teaching was both engaging and substantial. So from every angle he merited being called “good”. Yet, he seems offended.
It turns out that this rich guy (let’s be creative and name him Rich) also sees himself as good. Jesus runs him through a list of what makes a person a model citizen and Rich is “good”.
Did you notice anything in particular about Jesus’ list of commandments? (If model citizen Rich noticed, he wasn’t going to mention it!) Jesus skips the four opening commandments that deal with one’s relationship with God (Exodus 20) and drops the last one about coveting. (I’m guessing that Jesus either wants to affirm what is good in Rich or he doesn’t want to set Rich up for his first lie.)
Sometimes we say that “there’s an elephant in the room” when one is oblivious to what is obvious to everyone else. Today, I’d say that there’s a camel!
Enter the “camel”. Someone has said that if we deal with the 10th commandment’s call to humility and contentment first, we are well positioned to live out the rest. We don’t even feel the need to compete with God about who will be “God.”
Rich, on the other hand, loved status and so to not covet would give him cramps. To go inside, dethrone himself, and allow a self-giving, generous God to be the centre might set off convulsions. No wonder he was sad. Jesus had no medallion to add to his ego-propping collection. No wonder he walked.
No wonder Jesus wasn’t flattered by being called Rich’s kind of “good.” No wonder he smiled at what Peter had to say. He got it.
Almighty God, Unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. (T. Cramner)