The most difficult thing about life after earning my degree in English with one minor being in Literature has been reading.
Well, the difficulty is really in dealing with the first couple of days after I finish a book I enjoy. I realize now that a lot of what I loved about my classes as an English student were the discussions, whether they were about books already in existence or stories that were being written. And at the time, everyone in the class was reading the same material, so we were all literally (or at least we were supposed to be) on the same page. And we would talk about themes and what scenes we thought were important or what our feelings or thoughts about certain parts were. It was very nice to have an outlet like that for all of the emotions I felt when I finished reading a book or story or poem. And now that I’m not surrounded by people who read the same books as me, that outlet is gone, and I miss book discussions more than any normal person could understand.
I remember when I was a senior in high school, my AP English teacher, Mrs. Taylor, told the class that if we could find proof in the text of whatever we were reading, we could argue that point. And that was when I first began to love book discussions.
What makes the story of the rich, young ruler in Mark 10 so fascinating is that we don’t have a lot to go on in terms of how he actually was, so we have to go by his actions, which can be interpreted differently. I’ve read this story before and totally disliked this guy. I’ve also read this story before and felt sympathetic towards him. I want to do something a little crazy here and look at this scripture while assuming the best of him. This is in part because I think it’s too easy to see him as a bad guy when evidence may suggest he’s not all bad and because it almost makes the end result a little sadder.
Mark 10:17-18 (NLT) reads, “As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus asked. ‘Only God is truly good.’”
Each of the four Gospels has a different theme, or rather, they each provide a different lens through which to see Jesus. In Mark, which is also the oldest of the Gospels, Jesus is a mysterious figure who doesn’t broadcast his status as the Son of God.
One could argue that the young man had heard of Jesus and how He did all these crazy, miraculous things and thought, “Hey, I’ll it a shot. He seems like he knows some stuff,” and Jesus called him out on it. But the fact that the guy knelt after he ran to Jesus shows that he needs answers and that he’s serious. Since crowds seem to have been common back in those days and Jesus wasn’t exactly shouting, “I’m the Messiah!” through a megaphone, there’s a possibility that the man could’ve discerned who Jesus was or at least believed whatever he had heard about Him.
Mark continues to write and Jesus continues to speak in verse 19, “’But to answer your question, you know the commandments: “You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.”’
‘Teacher,’ the man replied, ‘I’ve obeyed all of these commandments since I was young.’”
This is where we start to dislike the guy, right? We call him arrogant or a liar. We think he’s too proud. Maybe he’s all or none of these things, but since I’m assuming the best of this guy right now, let’s say he was being honest. Maybe a little hurried or even rude to move the conversation along by declaring such a thing, but still.
Of course, that’s not the real point here. It’s what we get caught up on, but what this implies combined with how he feels is what’s really important. There’s nothing in the scripture that specifically says that the young man felt validated by Jesus telling him to follow the commandments. He doesn’t start to walk off, shouting over his shoulder a thanks to Jesus for proving him right or anything. If the ruler had thought that his mission was complete, he would’ve been happy and left. I would say that him sticking around was because he knew there was more to it. From a religious standpoint, the Mosaic Law was king in Jerusalem at this point in time. It was taught, preached, and attempted to be followed. So by searching Jesus for eternal life even after claiming he followed the commandments, the young ruler was saying that there was more to salvation than a religious checklist or rule book.
Verses 21-22 read, “Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. ‘There is still one thing you haven’t done,’ he told him. ‘Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
It all dwindles down to this one point. Regardless of how moral, desperate, or proud this guy may or may not have been, whether he was awful like we often think or a pretty decent person like we’ve tried to see him as throughout this post, this moment is important and final. Jesus tells him to sell his stuff, donate the money to the poor, and follow him.
And this man, who not one minute earlier was in hot pursuit of eternal life, walks away from it.
It’s not about the man’s ability to follow commandments or how much stuff he has to sell. If so, Jesus would require these things of all His followers, and problem children like myself would never get the chance to enter heaven. It was about the young ruler’s heart and how committed he was.
The young ruler was more committed to his possessions and money than he was to God and eternal life. And he was honest about it. He didn’t hide behind a smile or say, ”You got it, Jesus,” and then never follow through with it. He left Jesus knowing that this commitment would never happen.
We’re always quick to judge the rich, young ruler, to chuckle or scoff at him as he walks off with his head hung low, but this scripture acts like a mirror for me. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve ran to God in desperation only to not commit to Him in the end. He’ll tell me to pray more or be more kind to others or to invest more time and energy into my relationship with Him, and I might do it for a few days, but then I’ll stop. I’m more committed to sleeping or my bitterness or some other small thing that simply does not compare to God.
And Jesus looks at me, at all of us, with the same genuine love He looked at that rich, young ruler with.
Unlike the young ruler, I don’t want to just give up on God. I know that all the actual work for my salvation was done by the Godhead, but maintaining a relationship with God falls fully on me. It’s a matter of how committed I am because God is faithful even when I’m not, and He is good and loving to me even when I’m not to Him.
By Carrie Prevette