Josiah could feel his mother’s hand, gently urging him forward. There were other children ahead of him, and he was shy and retiring at the best of times. It didn’t matter to him that the other children were pushing past him – he wasn’t sure that he wanted to meet the Stranger anyway.
“Go ahead, Josiah,” his mother’s calm voice encouraged, “he won’t hurt you, he likes little boys.” He looked friendly enough, but Josiah still wasn’t sure that he wanted to be part of the crowd of children that swarmed around this man. A little girl with long dark hair took advantage of his timidity, and pushed past him to stand closer to the Stranger. It didn’t bother Josiah, he was still evaluating the necessity of the whole ordeal.
“Alright, enough for today!” the voice of the tall man in the fisherman’s robe interjected. Josiah felt a wave of relief wash over him.
“Peter, what are you doing?!” the stern voice of the Teacher reprimanded.
“But, Master,” Peter defended his statement, “we have to be going, and it’s only the children that are left.” It seemed so logical to him – surely Jesus could understand the time constraints. Someone had to curtail the endless flow of tiny intruders – or they would never get to the important part of their ministry. The sick, the lame, the demon-oppressed – these were the people who really needed Jesus’ ministry.
“Only the children,” Jesus chided, “who else could be more important? Haven’t I told you that the Kingdom of God belongs to the children? Come back here, Son”, Josiah heard the soft voice of the Master call. He turned to see just who the unfortunate boy was who had failed to escape the public invitation. “Yes, you,” Josiah’s eyes met those of the Teacher, and he realized that Jesus was speaking directly to him. Hesitantly, Josiah completed the few paces between himself and the Teacher, who reached for him and firmly, but gently, sat Josiah on His knee. “What’s your name?…” the Teacher spent several moments talking to him as though he were the only person in the world. Josiah realized that his turn had ended only when the Teacher tousled his hair and gently handed him back to his waiting mother.
“OK – let’s get moving!” Peter mumbled with impatient relief, as Josiah and his mother strolled together toward the marketplace. Amid the confusion of gathering their belongings in preparation for the next part of the journey, the light-hearted banter of the group was interrupted by the excited voice of yet another stranger. Peter’s heart dropped as they turned to recognize an obviously well-to-do man in a fine textured robe. “What next?” the words remained unspoken in a harried look that passed between Peter and John.
“Good Teacher…”, the man began once more, now that he had Jesus’ undivided attention. “What would I have to do, in order to be worthy of this eternal life of which You speak?” The question was obviously the result of much contemplation, and there was a desperation in his voice that demanded an immediate answer.
“Good Teacher?” Jesus restated the young man’s salutation, “why do you address me as Good. You know that there is only One who is Good – that is God!” The young man was obviously flustered by the gentle rebuke, but any attempt at correcting himself was futile as the Master continued. “But if you really want to live”, He counseled, “simply hold fast to The Commandments.”
This was not the answer that the man had been expecting. He had been brought up in that admonition, and he had tried so hard to fulfill it. Why then did he feel the emptiness that indicated the total futility of his life? His father had died just last spring, and, being the only son, he had inherited the house, the lands, the gold and silver – all the wealth that his father had amassed in his lifetime. Still, what did it all mean if, at the end of his life, he would pass into oblivion as it seemed that his father had done? He had been schooled in the Law, but he could remember no reference to eternal life of which this Teacher spoke. Perhaps he had overlooked something?
“Which commandments do I need to keep”, he queried, “so that I can achieve this eternal life?”
“You know,” the Teacher spoke as though he were prompting a forgetful schoolboy. “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal …” with each point he held up another finger. “You shall not lie, honor your father and your mother, love your neighbour as you love yourself…” These were not new concepts to him, in fact, he had built his life around these principles, hadn't he?
“But, I’ve done all those things – ever since I was a child,” the young man protested. “Why do I still feel so empty and unfulfilled?” The question was purely rhetorical, and he was surprised when the Teacher offered a further solution.
“If you really want to achieve perfection,” the Teacher offered, “there is one thing more that you can do. Go, sell everything that you have, and give the proceeds to help the poor. When that is done, then come and travel with us.” By now, the young man was visibly upset. How could he possibly meet such a requirement? It would mean thumbing his nose at everything that his father had worked to attain. His family would feel totally betrayed, and the members of the community would swear that he had gone completely mad with grief. It was simply not an option, why must contentment be so difficult to attain? Unable to endure the intense gaze of the Teacher, the young man turned away in sorrow. He had failed the test before he even began.
“You see how hard it is for a rich man to become a member of the Kingdom of heaven?…” the young man heard the Teacher propose to His followers as he walked away in defeat.
So often we view the young man in this scenario with a pious disdain. How could one be so foolish as to reject the opportunity of sharing in Jesus’ ministry in favor of holding on to the riches of this life? An honest self-examination for any one of us, however, would reveal that we are not so far removed from his experience. Are we prepared to abandon family and friends in order to inherit a portion in the Kingdom of Heaven? Would each of us be prepared to turn our backs on everything that the world deems to be evidence of success in life? Before we become too judgmental of the young ruler that Jesus addressed, we need to answer these questions for ourselves.
Do the requirements that Jesus presented to the young man that day apply to all candidates for eternal life? Are there no wealthy saints bound for the Kingdom of God? Such a proposition would not be realistic in the light of history. However, Jesus needed to impress on his followers their necessity to hold very lightly the things of this present world. Our individual discipleship may, in fact, require that we dispose of any or all worldly assets, and in such cases we need to be prepared to surrender those things to God. But we must refrain from making any pharisaical generalizations in this regard.
In the final analysis, we should understand that the only way to inherit all of God’s promises for ourselves is to follow exactly the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When we are prepared to be entirely obedient to that still, small voice, then we will truly enter in to the joy that the Father has prepared for each of us.