Luke 18: 18-23
The story of the rich young ruler, an oft told tale from the pulpit repertory, describes a brief encounter Jesus has with a wealthy young man and ends with that young man departing with sorrow, unwilling to part with his considerable wealth to follow Jesus.
There is usually some discussion about the deceptive, seductive nature of wealth and the need to grasp loosely the material things of life. These things are all true, but they lie on the surface. We are told that God rewards those who diligently pursue Him. If we meditate on this passage, if we look a little deeper into all that is recorded here, we find an undercurrent of Law and Worship and Grace, and how they fit together in the Gospel and how they should fit together in our lives.
It is too easy to breeze right by the introduction to this story, but if we do so, we miss too much that is important. We miss the very heart of what Jesus is saying. So let us consider how it begins.
A certain ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” We must understand this interchange before we consider what Jesus says about obeying commandments, or we will not understand what He is saying at all.
To the casual reader it might seem that Jesus is denying any identification with God the Father. In light of a more thorough reading of the Gospels, that would truly be exceptional. Depending on His audience and the situation, because He knew what was in the heart of man, Jesus would choose to be open and explicit, or coy and cryptic, but He always challenged His hearers to recognize Who He was. Jesus is not denying His divinity here, He is challenging the young ruler to examine his own facile greeting and commit himself to its implications.
“You know the commandments, do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal…”
Jesus quotes from the Ten Commandments. It is significant that He begins to enumerate the second half, those that deal with ethical and social behavior. After confronting the young ruler on his glib salutation, He holds the commandments that relate to the vertical relationship in reserve.
“All these things I have kept from my youth,” the still somewhat youthful ruler protests.
No doubt he has scrupulously, dare we say, religiously, obeyed these commandments, and yet still feels an emptiness that has compelled him to seek audience with the Nazarene prophet.
“One thing you lack; sell all that you possess, and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Now the test is given and our young ruler fails it.
All the commandments in the Bible are amplifications and applications of the ten written on the Stones atop Mount Sinai by God’s own finger, beginning with, “ I am the LORD your God, thou shall have no other Gods before me.” The first part of the commandments prescribe how we act toward God, the second how we act toward others. Jesus famously sums them up elsewhere as “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, and with all your might, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”*
Not only had the rich young ruler not obeyed all the commandments; he had not obeyed the first. They come as a unit, not to be disassembled by the “consumer.” No matter how carefully we live up to our social responsibilities, if we do not worship God above all else, we are empty and act in vain. No matter how we might assert our privileged relationship with God, and enjoy our times of worship, if we are not mindful of our responsibilities toward our neighbors, we are idolaters, worshipping our subjective experience instead of His revelation in Word and Christ.
The Law reveals Christ, Who makes our worship possible and calls us to love one another. Christ reveals the Law, that defines worship and social responsibility.
Do I measure my righteousness by performance standards?
Is there anything that I would not let go of if Jesus asked me to?
Is serving others part of my worship?
Lord, may you be the focus of my worship and the source of my service.
*MT 22:37-40 All Scripture cited from NASB
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