Monday, March 7, 2016

Scripture Study: The rich young ruler's interaction with Jesus (Matthew 19:16-26)

16 ¶And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
The first line of the interaction between this man and Jesus reveals a suboptimal paradigm. There is no "good thing" we can do to have eternal life. Eternal life is gained through a process, not an event. The straight and narrow path is a process, not an event. We progress along that path by seeking and heeding every word of God. An interactive relationship with God is a requirement. It is not possible for someone else to access God, get a list of "good things," and pass them onto you. That process is idolatry. It places someone else between you and God. The gospel is not a static list. It is a personal, interactive relationship with God. Any list is meant as a teaser to get you to the point where you gain that personal, interactive relationship. It's training wheels. You can't ride to heaven with training wheels.

 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

This is Jesus' first attempt to correct this man softly. This man has it all wrong. Yet, like Paul, most of his incorrect ideas are not his fault. He has inherited a false religion, and he has adhered to those traditions thinking he is doing God service. Jesus, knowing this man's heart, knew that he was prideful. This man thought that his life of dedication to God (as he supposed) made him special in God's sight. In reality, his service as the ruler of a synagogue and his assumed perfection in living the traditions of the elders served as barriers to his relationship with God. He was on the hamster wheel of the commandments of men. Jesus was trying to suggest to him that maybe, just maybe, his standing with God was much different than he had assumed. Jesus is saying, "I am the son of God, yet I do not command adulation. If I do not call myself good, but instead direct adoration to the father, how should you view yourself, who are much lesser than me?" He then tries to clue him in to the key of why he is not where he thinks he is: Keep GOD's commandments.

 18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Here is Jesus' second attempt. Instead of getting the clue and saying something indicative like, "Oh Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner," he says, "which?" This provides further evidence that his heart is in the wrong place. He is not approaching Jesus to find out how he can grow. Instead, he is looking for Jesus to justify him where he stands. This man's attitude is prevalent in religion. He has filled his life with the dead works of tradition, yet has never connected to God. There is a gnawing voice inside that says to him that perhaps he has something wrong. Instead of mustering real intent and seeking God to find the relationship his soul craves for, he doubles down on dead works, assuming more of what is causing the problem will solve the problem. Jesus throws him a huge hint here in the last commandment, the only one not from the 10. Surely, this man was actually quite good at following the previously listed commandments. However, as we see later, the last should have called him squarely to repentance. It does not.

 20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
He missed the second clue. If he understood the meaning of loving thy neighbor beyond what his church had told him it meant, he would have thanked Jesus for the rebuke (which he missed) and gone on his way applying it. Instead, Jesus has to take it up a notch.

 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
I can see Jesus here sighing because of the hardness of this man's heart. "Let me try again, as you've totally missed it when I tried to tell you this twice already." Jesus doesn't force truth on us. The man could have gone his way after missing the first or second clues and never gotten to this point. If it weren't for his continued asking (a good thing), he never would have come to realize what Jesus has been trying to teach him the whole time. Jesus always tries to teach things softly at first, and usually doesn't go past that unless we ask him to. Alma 12 comes to mind. We are only taught according to our heed and diligence. This man is blind as a bat, but to his favor he just keeps asking. With every request, he is asking Jesus to be more direct with him. Initially, Jesus was protecting him. But we can't progress in ignorance. I'd rather know what I am doing wrong so I can actually fix it than proceed in vacuous ignorance.

 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
This man was not ready to actually do what Jesus said. When we are properly baptized, we promise God that we will obey him. This is much more open ended than most realize. We aren't just promising to keep the commandments we know about. The much more important piece is everything we don't yet know about. It is a wide open commitment. Some might wonder why they have not received the baptism of fire. Perhaps it is because they are not willing to receive whatever God gives to them, no matter how many of our sacred cows it violates.

 23 ¶Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? 26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
I laugh and cry every time I hear a preacher tell his congregation that Jesus' instruction to the man was just for him. How much plainer could he have been? If you are rich, you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. The reason? You can't possibly keep the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself AND be rich. It is not possible. If you are rich, you are failing to live the second great commandment. You cannot be saved until you let go of the idol of wealth.

It is easy to be hard on this man. Truly, he failed in this test. Yet, he was closer than most of us ever get. He at least had the gumption to approach Jesus and ask him these questions. How many of us don't even do that? How many church services are filled with people who are so smug in their supposed positive state with God that they don't even think to approach Jesus, let alone ask him what they yet lack? It is a failure to ask then not obey the answer, but it is an even bigger failure to not even ask.