Thursday, October 19, 2006

what must I do?

Jesus was asked by a wealthy young man, what must I do to have eternal life?, Jesus responded with, “you know the commandments.” The man, told him, in apparent sincerity, that he’d kept them all since he was a boy. Jesus didn’t say, “oh you have, have you? Well have you ever told a lie?” The gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus looked at him and loved him and told him he lacked one thing, “go sell everything you have and give the money to the poor and you’ll have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”
This is a terribly intriguing exchange. Even before I get to my point, I’m intrigued that Jesus didn’t tell him to give away his possessions. He told him to sell them and give the money. I wonder if this is Jesus’ way of pointing out that what the man had was unnecessary? His stuff wasn’t even needed by the poor. I also get this feeling from Jesus contrasting his possessions with the treasures in heaven he would have if he rid himself of his stuff of earth.
My point though, is this, Jesus, knowing that the man had not kept the commandments – no one has – told him he lacked only ONE thing. And that one thing, on the surface, wasn’t even included in the commandments he’d mentioned.
No doubt many sermons have been preached attempting to sum up this one thing. Perhaps the man’s money was what kept him from following the commandments. The passage that follows after the man left certainly speaks to this, “how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus could have been telling him that even if he did keep all the commandments, he was missing the point in the one thing he lacked. There is truth no doubt in all these points, but I wonder if the greater message here is that the one thing he lacked IS the point of the commandments.
Jesus’ answer is consistent with all the instances we are given of him discussing this with people. Jesus did not point out their sin. He merely said they needed to follow him, or stop sinning, and follow him.

I wonder if Jesus wasn’t setting up the lesson that all the commandments are summed up in love? Remember when he was asked what was the greatest commandment? He answered, “to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as your self.” He said that all the law and prophets are summed up in this command. In fact, in Luke's account, he said, "do this and you'll live," in response to being asked the same question the rich young man asked. Why would Jesus give a different answer? I don't think he did.
These two commands are the POINT of the law? So when the rich young ruler answered that he followed the law, Jesus pointed out that what he lacked was understanding that the law in fact was to love God (follow him) and love people, (sell his stuff and give to the poor). 
The way in which this would be manifest according to his instruction to the man, was in denying himself and making others the beneficiaries of what had been his. This was certainly a picture of what Jesus himself was going to do, and he said that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

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