A young man approached Jesus and said,
“Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”
He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good?
There is only One who is good.
If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He asked him, “Which ones?”
And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The young man said to him,
“All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go,
sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad,
for he had many possessions.
As usual, one could find many themes to emphasize in readings like these, but I am continually struck by the totality of faith which God requires for salvation.
This is more stark, more carnal, more brutal, more human in the Old Testament, which makes for an interesting psycho-analysis of our modern age. It is the OT we are quick to discard, or hide behind a large potted plant, or otherwise interpret into metaphors and abstractions, and thus into obscurity.
But the very physicality of it, the raw flesh-and-blood composition of it, continue to demand our attention.
And indeed, we see in our age – perhaps in every age – the same tendency of God’s people, over time, to drift away into other religions, to worship other gods. We think God was perhaps a bit too exclusionary, a bit too strict – yet time and time again, He is shown to be correct, because the very people whom He has favored and saved always fall into unfaithfulness.
We are reminded, there are no half-measures to salvation. It is really all or nothing, and that is why the strictures of the Old Testament will always be relevant.
Indeed, we see it with Jesus and the rich man. And again, while the New Testament is often thought to be gentler and more civilized, it is only the latter and not the former, for civilization is built by ordered thinking and great sacrifices.
The rich man, as we see, has satisfied the conditions of salvation in the Old Testament, and he knows it. It would be wrong to judge him as inferior, for this really is quite a feat, and he was, in all likelihood, one of the most virtuous men of his generation. He would not have had such a fine reception from Jesus if he was even the least bit hypocritical, as we see with the Pharisees.
Yet, when pressed, Jesus reveals that the true demand of God is all, everything. Not because God needs it, but to become perfect like God is put everything it its proper order; and that means that God Himself is above all. There is no possession, no virtue, no honor, no relationship, which makes a favorable comparison with God.
So we see that there was virtue and honor in this young man – but not that reckless love which God demonstrates through His Son on the Cross. All of his motions were in order, but his heart was not.
One assumes that he went away sad because he did not want to give away his possessions. I think this is true, but that there is more.
Namely, he had prepared himself for a moment like this for all his life, and by every measure he could find, he was an excellent man. But when he was confronted by the totality of God’s demands, it was not only that he would be poor – but he realized he was still spiritually poor, he had failed this test which he had longed to pass.
It turns out that Heaven is impossible for man, and so trust is needed to believe nothing is impossible for God.