Success Handicap

Mark 10: 17 – 22

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

I have always been very attracted to this character, the rich young ruler. Maybe I relate to him at some level. There are some things we don’t know about this person, but I am going to be very glad to hear the rest of his story.

He approached Jesus to discover what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life. The first thing which intrigues me about this fellow is that although he was very successful and even a ruler among the Jewish people, when he approached Jesus, he threw himself to his knees. There was humility in this young man and I think we see an honest devotion to God. He also attempted to show honor to Jesus by first calling him “teacher,” or in the Hebrew that would have been Rabbi, and secondly by tacking on the adjective “good.” Jesus rejected his adulation pointing, instead, to the Father. There is a full sermon right there.

Jesus referred the man to the commandments and when the man professed that since his boyhood he had kept the commandments Jesus looked at him. When Jesus looked at him he felt love for him. I think in that moment Jesus looked into the man and could see that he spoke the truth. All of his young adulthood this man had attempted to serve God and was devout in his faith. Jesus was moved by what he saw in this young man. The Passion translation reads, “Jesus fixed his gaze upon the man, with tender love,” (v. 21). Isn’t that moving? I have always imagined that this brief verse shows a powerful and dynamic love. It never seemed to me that it conveyed a casual or even typical emotion of feeling love. I have always sensed that there was something deep and important about the way Jesus looked at him and the emotive energy he conveyed towards the young man, as if that love was not a passive but rather a dynamic event. Jesus saw into the young person’s heart and was moved by what he saw there. He saw something else too. What was that?

Jesus said, there is one thing lacking in you. Can’t you imagine the young man hanging on Jesus’ words? He probably held his breath just waiting to hear what Jesus would say next. Jesus told him to go sell his worldly goods and follow him.

That is the invitation most of us would love to hear. It says that Jesus finds something within you with which he can work, something he finds attractive. He called this young man to be one of his followers. At this point in the narrative there are two interpretations. One is that what follows next identifies what the man lacked. The other interpretation is that in following Jesus, he was going to be led to that thing which he lacked. Regardless, the man stumbled right here.

Hadn’t he run to Jesus and cast himself at Jesus’ feet specifically to receive the answer to what he needed to do to inherit eternal life? Hadn’t he been so passionate about serving Yahweh and spending eternity with Him that he humbled himself before Jesus even though he was a man of means and influence. He had a passionate desire, a true longing. And yet, when Jesus told him what to do, he hiccupped. How much is that like each of us? We are very sincere, until he gives us an answer that does not fit into our religious paradigm. All of a sudden we are saddened and, like the rich, young ruler, we walk away with our heads bowed low.

If the young man was so absorbed with his eternal life, why was it not good news to him that he would have treasure in heaven? We think temporally rather than infinitely. The here and now dominates our existence and so it was for the young man. He was a man of wealth and success. He had been promoted amongst his peers because of his abilities. Now, as he knelt before Jesus, he learned that his trust was misplaced. He trusted in the might and the power of his hand. He knew how to succeed by his strength. Do you recall what Zechariah 4: 6 says, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.”  Our trust and our success is supposed to be in God through the power of His Spirit.

The young man was given the invitation of all the ages, the offer to walk with Jesus. However, when Jesus told him he needed to sell all that stuff so he could go with Jesus he felt a twinge within him. What if I sell all my properties? What happens to my rent income? What will happen to me if I sell all my businesses and business interests? How am I to survive? See, he might have loved God, but he didn’t trust God to take care of him. He trusted in his own ability to provide.

And this is why I think I feel so compassionate toward this fellow. There am I in the midst of his story. Where do I fix my trust? Do I trust God, or Jesus, to meet my needs on a daily basis? If I sell something or give it away, how will I then provide for my needs? There are some people who trust Jesus enough to do exactly what he says without argument. That is not me. I am still growing into that and perhaps today is the day that I can outgrow the rich, young ruler in me. Maybe today is the day I can shuck the robes which he and I have in common and I can answer Jesus’ call to follow him for we know, do we not, that invitation has, in fact, been issued to each one of us and we have answered it only incrementally. Perhaps today is the day we say, “Yes, Jesus.” I am not saying that you need to sell all your earthly goods. You just need to do what Jesus is telling you to do and I need to trust him with what he is telling me. Maybe you do need to give away something. Maybe Jesus has been trying to redirect some of your money or your time for awhile now.

I also like to think that, like us, the rich, young ruler, after he had time to evaluate and pray, did return to Jesus. Most of us stumble but that is not to say we can’t get up and brush ourselves off and begin again. That is where you find the champions in people. It’s not when they do that which is easy for them, it is when they choke on it but do it anyway. It may take a day or two, or month or two, or even a year or two of praying before we renew ourselves to the point that we overcome ourselves and follow Jesus’ leading.

So, I ask you not to look too disparaging on this young chap. Just know that he represents a part of each of us and then fix your hope on Jesus. I believe the young man was eventually able to overcome his fear just like I believe you and I can rise to the challenges Jesus poses to us. He was handicapped by his trust in his own abilities and his success. What handicaps us? Jesus can cause us to rise beyond those things which attempt to restrain us. We can be renewed in our innermost being to live out the dream God has for us. We have the ability to trust Yahweh fully.