April 7, 2020 by Bob Whitaker
Matthew 19 is the story of a rich young man who came to Jesus. I’ve often wondered about this rich young man. Who was he? What was his story? Had he inherited a large sum of money from his father or had he made the wealth on his own? We will never know the answer to these questions and perhaps the answers are not important but still I wonder. What we do know is that he was young, he was very wealthy and he had a particular passion for inheriting eternal life. His question to Jesus was straightforward – What should I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus’ answer was very simple – Follow the commandments. The rich young man answered that he had kept all the commandments but he seems to suspect that there is something more that was necessary. We must give this young man credit for being earnest. He was serious about eternal life and he was willing to persist with questions in order to find out if there was anything else. I’m not sure what he was expecting but it is likely that Jesus’ answer surprised him. We know for certain that it disturbed him so deeply that he walked away. Jesus said, “Sell your possessions, give the money to the poor and follow me.” With those words Jesus hit the nerve center of this young man’s heart. He touched the thing that was dearest to him, asking if he was willing to give it up to inherit eternal life.
So what was Jesus asking him to give up? The obvious answer is his wealth. His response to Jesus gives us insight into the young man’s heart. What we discover is that the possessions that he owned actually owned him. They were the metaphorical ball and chain from which he could not find freedom. He was not willing to give them up even to inherit eternal life. His story echoes the words of Jesus in another setting, “What will it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Matthew’s placement of this story about the rich young man is shortly before Jesus enters Jerusalem on his way to the cross. Jesus is challenging this young man to follow him to the cross. Had that young man followed Jesus to the cross he would have witnessed an incredible event. He would have seen Jesus literally lose his life so that we may gain eternal life. Had he followed, perhaps the demand that Jesus made would have made sense. Maybe the young man would have come to his senses. Maybe he would have realized that eternal life was really more important than anything. Surely he would have realized that eternal life was a free gift from God. That may have been at the heart of the young man’s problem. He thought it could be earned. After all, he had earned everything else but Jesus wasn’t asking him to earn something. He was simply asking him to surrender.