A couple of months ago, I was meeting with the Tuesday evening Bible Study. I was telling them a bit about this series – growing as disciples and I asked them the question – What are some of the Scripture stories that have been particularly meaningful for you over the years? Which stories have helped you to grow in your faith?
Well, there was a long silence as people thought about the question – and after some time, Lynne Reid spoke up.
Well, I don’t have a Scripture that I can think of that I really like – but I do have one that I really don’t like. One that has always gotten under my skin – and frankly kind of irritated me.
And I said, well, then – that’s the perfect kind of scripture for us to talk about.
Now this man’s story is difficult for us on a number of levels.
First of all, the most obvious – is that we get a little nervous when Jesus starts talking about selling all of our stuff and giving it to the poor.
You don’t mean us do you Jesus?
I mean – what would happen if we all did that – where would we live? How would we survive?
And then we start justifying the things that we do have.
I need my stuff – I use it. It is necessary for me to live.
But this story also makes us uncomfortable for another reason –
The man’s original question is – what must I do to inherit eternal life?
And the story ends with an invitation to sell our stuff?
And so we have this lingering question – is this what God wants us to do –
Is this the way to eternal life?
Because if it is – then – I’m not sure I’m able to do it.
SO let’s just begin with the acknowledgement that this story makes us a little uneasy. It makes us ask some questions.
We certainly ought to find ourselves comforted and encouraged by Scripture at times. But in order to Grow in Knowledge, we should also find ourselves in moments where we are uncomfortable, where we are challenged and where we may not like what we hear.
In today’s story, we meet a young man. We later learn that he is a rich young man, but at the beginning – we just know him to be a young man – and he approaches Jesus with a question.
What good deed must I do to inherit eternal life?
Now I am the first to tell you that I think it is really important to ask questions. It’s how we grow – it’s how we learn.
And at the outset – it might appear that this young man is a model disciple. He’s come with his questions – he has sought Jesus. He is trying to grow in his knowledge.
The man wants to know – what he has to do to get eternal life –
He wants TO KNOW.
He asks the QUESTION.
And he is listening for a very specific response.
Do you hear the subtlety in his question?
What must I DO?
Tell me what to do – so I can just do it.
There’s got to be some good deed I can do that will ensure that I am eternally good with God.
So just tell me what it is.
So I can check it off my list.
Make it easy for me Jesus.
Tell me what I have to do.
I can be like that sometimes as well.
When I was applying to college, when I was looking for a job, when I was trying to make important decisions about my career and my calling. When I have faced great moments of confusion – where the next step
I ask the question –
God – just tell me the answer. Tell me what to do. Make it easy. Make it plain.
I don’t really want to have to wrestle with it – just give me the checklist of how to get there and I’ll do it.
Unfortunately, Jesus isn’t interested in placating to this young man’s need for an easy and quick answer.
Jesus is interested in helping him understand what eternal life is all about. He is interested in helping him see beyond his limited understanding – to get a glimpse of what it is that God is doing right before him.
And so part of his response is incredibly telling.
He asks a question.
Why do you ask me what is good?
There is only one who is good.
In many ways, he is redirecting this man – You are asking the wrong question. There isn’t any deed you can do that will make you good enough for eternal life. Only God is fully good.
But if it’s life that you are after – it that is the thing that your heart really desires - then keep the commandments. Because when you live this way, you will find yourself bumping into this new life that God is offering you.
The young man’s response shows us that he still isn’t getting it.
Jesus responds and lists the commandments.
I’ve done that says the man. What else?
You can hear the desperation. He’s looking for something specific. He’s heard about the commandments. He knows those. What’s the new thing? What’s the secret thing? What’s the easy thing?
But then Jesus drops the hammer –
You are asking what it will take to present yourself perfect before God – through your own efforts entirely. That’s not the road I’m suggesting, but if that’s the road you want – then you’ll need to keep every commandment – sell all your stuff and follow me.
And not surprisingly the man walks away sad – he had a lot of possessions.
The young man came with a lot of questions.
His problem wasn’t really his questions – even though they probably weren’t the best questions.
His problem was that he didn’t actually listen for the answers.
He had already decided what and how he wanted Jesus to respond to him.
Unfortunately, all of us know that we learn our greatest lessons the hard way. We learn and we grow in knowledge by not only asking the questions – but also listening hard to the answers that weren’t what we expected.
This week, I have been spending a good deal of my prayer time this week – doing this very exercise.
Writing down the things that have been keeping me up at night – writing out the things that I don’t understand – writing down the things that I want answers for – and writing down the things that are making me sad or angry.
It was a longer list than I realized.
And as I wrote down each thing – I realized – that with most them. Even though I’ve named them before – I hadn’t really been actively praying and listening for what God might have to say to me about it.
So I wonder about the questions that you have for God.
If you were this man – what would they be?
I can’t help but wonder – what would happen if we really listened to the answers.