From Carolyn Stickney
I kind of pity the rich ruler in today’s reading. His intent, unlike the lawyer who questioned Jesus in Luke 10, seems to be sincere, but his interaction with Jesus doesn’t go any more smoothly than the lawyer’s. On first glance, his question seems innocuous enough: What must I do to inherit eternal life? But Jesus’ response, listing the commandments found in the Old Testament, makes me think that perhaps the ruler is asking the wrong question – or that Jesus has sized up something in the man’s heart that is oriented wrongly. The ruler’s next move – an eager (but rather dubious) assertion that he’s faithfully kept all of the commandments since his youth – reveals this to us as well. In spite of his honest question, his heart is more like that of the Pharisees: self-righteous and lacking the humility that comes from the awareness of sin.
Jesus chooses not to contradict his assertion directly. Instead he issues an invitation to the ruler that hits him right where it hurts: Sell all that you have… and come, follow me. You get the sense that this was a bit of a gut-punch for the ruler. He had a great deal of wealth, and the thought of surrendering it was inconceivable, even in exchange for the kingdom of God. Ultimately the ruler’s attachment to the things of this world blocked him from experiencing the reward of following Jesus. And in this example, which seems extreme and not particularly relevant to me, it’s easy to pity him. I think, it’s so sad that this ruler couldn’t see how worth the material sacrifice following Jesus would be!
But how often am I faced with opportunities to make material sacrifice for the kingdom of God in which I make smaller-scale decisions that reflect the behavior of the ruler in this passage? I’m not sure I could – or would want to – make a list, but I suspect that I make a lot of these choices without even thinking about it, and that the comfort of storing up treasure on earth wins out more often than I’d like.
Our fast from spending this week has been a potent reminder of how much I indulge materially in the things of this world, and how that can dull my heart to the call of Jesus to live a radically sacrificial life. As I reflect on this passage and on our fast, I pray that we would all have hearts that grow in humility and in a willingness to relinquish our grip on the things of this world in exchange for the joy of eternal life with Christ.