How about just being good? How much does that cost?
The passage at the top of this letter comes from a conversation Jesus had with a wealthy young man. You can read about it in Matthew (19:16 – 29), Mark (10:17 – 30) and Luke (18:18 – 30). The story is recorded three times in all three synoptic gospels … must have been a pretty important conversation.
The wealthy young man apparently had more than just money; he had regard and power in the community (Luke calls him a â€˜ruler’). Of course that’s some of what we want money to buy us right – regard and power? What’s the good of being rich if it doesn’t get you a little visibility and respect? That’s what bling is all about.
I don’t know if this guy had bling. I don’t even know what people used for bling back then; probably the same stuff we do – flashy jewelry, nice clothes, the latest chariot (probably where cup-holders were invented), big house on a corner lot. Maybe things haven’t changed that much.
This young man was rich and powerful and, from their conversation, he seemed like a pretty upstanding citizen. He was raised well, he kept the law and his heart was in the right place – and he was interested in what more he could do to attain eternal life. If this guy popped up today, any pastor would walk over hot coals to get him in his church. He was the epitome of everything we consider successful, good and upstanding. He had the right stuff.
He asked Jesus, “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked why the young man would ask him what is good; there is only One who is good. It was as if Jesus was saying, “What do you know about good? Do you think that following the rules and earning the approval of others is what’s good. There is only One who knows what good really is.”
But Jesus saw this guy’s heart and had compassion on him; Mark said that “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Jesus was going answer his question – give him the secret of eternal life. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”
That’s the secret of eternal life? Sell everything you have, give to poor and follow Jesus? Maybe. It was for this rich young ruler. Â It was the one good thing he had to do … and he couldn’t.
Good, Jesus pointed out isn’t a what; it’s a Who. The good things this young guy was doing weren’t good enough and the one thing he couldn’t put aside to follow the Who that was truly good, prevented him from finding what he was looking for.
He went away dejected. Perfection, it seemed had too high a price. As much as he wanted eternal life, with all his wealth and good works, he couldn’t afford it.
This is one of the most tragic stories in the Bible. A guy who has it all, including a good heart, meets Jesus and walks away. He can’t pay the price required for eternal life.
What if he hadn’t walked away? How would the story have gone? Would he have been like Peter and John and the other disciples who walked away from their lives and gave up everything to follow Jesus?
Elaine and I met a young man in Jerusalem. His name is Reuel. Reuel works in the kitchen of the Christ Church Guest House in the Old City of Jerusalem, right inside the Jaffa Gate. While we stayed at the Guest House, Reuel was always around to talk with us, share about what was happening among the Believers in Jerusalem, help us out with getting around the Old City and to the airport. What a great guy.
Doing kitchen work in old Jerusalem and having a good Hebrew name like Reuel, you’d think I was talking about a local guy. Not so. Reuel is from Atlanta. His story is fascinating. Reuel was raised well. He kept the law, he did good deeds and he was a genuinely nice guy with an open heart. And he was rich. Reuel’s is story of the rich young ruler … with one exception.
One day Jesus and Reuel had that same conversation: “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus doesn’t change his answers. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”
Reuel and his family had worked hard to make sure he was â€˜set-up’ for life. At the age of twenty-four he had a paid-for, fully furnished house, a new Mercedes, a Rolex, a college degree, a career, and a trust fund. He was set. All he needed was a wife and a few kids and he’d be living the American dream.
But then he had that conversation with Jesus. Unlike his predecessor in the Gospels, Reuel said yes. He sold everything, wrote a check to a charity cleaning out the trust-fund and followed Jesus. It didn’t go over well at home. The parents hit the ceiling, everybody thought he was nuts, but it didn’t matter; Reuel had found the one good thing.
So what happened? I’ll let Reuel tell you:
“I left the business world of getting / having things that would end up in the trash ultimately anyway; gave it all away -everything- the paid-for house, furniture, the Rolex and the Mercedes, the career and the cash- to live as radically spoken of by Jesus (Yeshua) in the Bible. So I’ve been for several years now, more and more dependent on God; taken care of wherever I find myself on the planet, following Him, learning to trust Him as my Father, serving the poor (in spirit and wallet), finding that He is Real. It is easier to give up your stuff than your heart (a long-term / lifetime process). I wrestle with trusting completely. God is Faithful and Good despite historical and frequent misrepresentation- especially in religion (death) vs. Relationship (Life); God does not let us down. He is the Good Father. I’ve been to 30+ countries so far; an adventurer by default (vs. dying in a cubicle with a retirement plan and lots of regrets). I’m an artist, a scribe, a musician, a writer, a giver, a receiver, a Believer, not an idealist, yet a realist and romantic simultaneously, and in a way, eternally optimistic in learning to trust; to live by radical Faith.”
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
Reuel has found his life by losing it … and gained eternal life in the transaction. I like a story with a happy ending.
I don’t know if Jesus has had that conversation with you yet. If he hasn’t he will. He has it with everyone who asks, “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” What’s that one thing for you? Is it selling everything you have, giving to the poor and following Jesus? Maybe. That’s what it was for Reuel and the rich young ruler. Whatever it is you can bet it’s the thing you hold onto the tightest. That’s the way it is. Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) You can’t go to the cross with your hands full.
Reuel’s example is important. He’s put his life where his beliefs are – his faith has been demonstrated by action. You can trust what he has to say about that because he’s been there. Next week I’m going to let Reuel do the talking. What he has to say is worth your attention.
Until then, follow Jesus,