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The four gospels teach us about Jesus from different angles. They share some similar stories and events, but they have their own unique message about Jesus. When you find an event that is commonly shared, it is a major event. One of the shared event is the encounter between Jesus and a man referred to as ‘the rich, young, ruler’ (see Matthew 19:16-23, Mark 10:17-22, and Luke 18:18-23).
We read in Mark 10:17-22 (New Living Translation) (shortened): ‘As Jesus was starting out… to Jerusalem, a man came running… and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”… to answer your question, you know the commandments… “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,”… “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.’
This man was influential and important; probably came from a prominent family for him to have been so rich and part of the rulers at a young age. This is the Church member who can buy Jesus a private jet plane. Ok, they did not have planes, he could buy Jesus comfortable gold chariots and wagons pulled by the best horses, to make his long travels from Galilee to Jerusalem smooth and easy.
So, why did Jesus not accept this very important person (VIP) immediately? Why tell him to first give away all he owned to the poor, and come back and follow him? Think about this: if this man grew up in wealth, with servants, neighbours and friends, praising him for his good looks, intelligence, and good behaviour, then he would expect Jesus to fall in line, to confirm, and praise, and bless him.
Instead, Jesus challenged this man, perhaps for the first time in his life, to do something selfless, humbling, and sacrificial. Was Jesus intending to embarass this man or to make him a poor beggar? No, Jesus was saying to him, ‘if you wish to follow me, whoever you think you are, whatever you think you own, don’t matter to me, I am not interested, none of it wins you any credit with me’.
It is common for wealthy people, or the highly educated, or the highly skilled (musicians, actors, sport stars), to want to be at the front of the line wherever they go. The rich young ruler was used to being in front of the line and assumed that will be the case with Jesus. When Jesus pointed out he needed to empty himself, bend low, and start with the basics of bein g a servant to the people, the man fell apart.
I have often been like this rich young ruler; I come to God with my sense of pride and achievement as a scholar, an academic, a loving husband, a father of three lovely kids, a respected teacher; I come to God with the mindset that says ‘look at me and my beauty and my good grades and my wonderful kingdom’, and God says to me and to you ‘put it all away, just be a simple child in my presence’.
Lord, help us stay simple, as we walk with you, and serve the world, Amen!