All these things I have done…

… the question is what was the radical value Jesus was trying to communicate? Wasn’t it the need to remove the obstacles that prevented the young man from following Jesus? What are the things in our lives from which we need be become divested?

Mark 10:17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

 

Matthew 19:16Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”20The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” 21Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

 

Luke 18:16Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”20The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” 21Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

 

When a member of the ruling class asked Jesus “Good Master, what must I do to have eternal life?” do you recall Jesus’ answer? Do you think it has changed over the last two thousand years?

 

The setting of this story that made it into all three of the synoptic Gospels with very little change reminded me of George Fox’s experience where he recalled “As I had forsaken all the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition…” I think something like that had been this man’s experience. Jesus wasn’t the first person to whom he had put his question.   He stops Jesus on the road and addresses him as “Good Master” or “Good Teacher.”   This isn’t a statement about Jesus’ morality. He was looking for a ‘good teacher’ a reputable person, a reliable resource whose answer to his burning question would have meaning for him. According to Mark Jesus asks the man why he would call Jesus good. Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus’ reply turned the question a bit – asking his interrogator why he would ask him about what is good. All three have Jesus warning us all that secondary sources for knowing what is good are inadequate “there is only one good” and that is God.

 

Again Matthew and Luke agree that Jesus tells him that “if he wants to enter life”, which is an interesting twist on the question request from a man who is asking about eternal life – as if he is now outside of life — but whatever the way to achieve that is to keep the commandments. Mark has Jesus assuming the man knows the commandments, Matthew and Luke have the man asking ‘which ones?” Jesus lists the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth and fifth commandments. And each of the Evangelists in their own way site Leviticus 19. That’s where Mark gets the “do not defraud” and Matthew and Luke get “you shall love your neighbor as your self…”  

 

Again I’m reminded of George Fox, whose father was known as ‘Righteous Christer’ and who grew up following all the rules of being ‘good Christian’. He had spent his young life striving to be a good person to the extent that some called him a ‘prig’. That not being a word we hear often, a prig is someone whose behavior demonstrates an exaggerated conformity or propriety, in an especially irritatingly arrogant or smug manner. This young man, to some extent was like that. He was a rather self assured individual. To Jesus’ statement in Matthew that ‘if you would enter life, keep the commandments” and Mark and Luke’s “You know the commandments” his answer is found the same in all three synoptic gospels “All these I have observed…” To be able to say that says a great deal about this man’s way of life. He was a good man by the standards of his community.   Jesus doesn’t contest the man’s self appraisal.

 

A powerful image emerges from the conversation. We are told that Jesus beholds the man. What would it be like to have the soul penetrating eyes of Jesus focused directly on you? It says “And Jesus looking upon him loved him…” In the synoptic Gospels it is only here, in Mark’s version of this story, where love is attributed to Jesus.

 

I’m guessing that most self assured and priggish people don’t feel much love. Yet he wanted to know what he lacked to be made complete, whole, perfect. Jesus’ answer became the basis for the early Christian monastic movement’s focus on what are called the Evangelical Counsels. These became abbreviated as the traditional vows for Catholic priests of “poverty, chastity, and obedience.” The three Gospel principles are: Go, sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor and come, follow me.” I think a more appropriate way to abbreviate the challenge that Jesus put forward would be “poverty, charity and obedience.” Or maybe “liquidate, donate and imitate.”

 

All three of the synoptic Gospels conclude the story the same way: “He went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”   The Gospel According to the Hebrews, a divergent yet not heretical form of our Gospel of Matthew tells this same story. In that version a second of two rich men asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good thing can I do and live? He said to him “Sir, fulfill the law and the prophets.” He answered, “I have.” Jesus said, “Go, sell all that you have and distribute to the poor and come, follow me.” But the rich man began to scratch his head, for it did not please him. And the Lord said to him, “How can you say, I have fulfilled the law and the prophets, when it is written in the law: You shall love your neighbor as yourself; and lo, many of your brothers, sons of Abraham, are clothed in filth, dying of hunger, and your house is full of many good things, none of which goes out to them?”

 

I think we all scratch our heads at this challenge. But for us the question is what was the radical value Jesus was trying to communicate? Wasn’t it the need to remove the obstacles that prevented the young man from following Jesus? What are the things in our lives from which we need be become divested? One author suggested that the first piece of work facing us is to learn to listen attentively to our internal intention. He explained that the common Greek verb in the New Testament for ‘obey’ is hupakouw which has the technical meaning of the task of the doorkeeper in the ancient world. He listens for a knock and admits those who were entitled to enter. So ‘obey’ carries this meaning of the manner in which a slave listens to his master. The image then is of a patient, attentive and respectful waiting of the disciple for the teaching of the master.

 

What are the obstacles to our hearing? Too much noise, the rattle made by too many possessions. But for many of us noise is the merciful, meaningless babble that shuts out the accusing voices seeking liberation that come from within us. Pope Paul VI characterized religious obedience as a holocaust of one’s own will which is offered to God. James Nayler wrote to Margaret Fell “…and so his will is our peace.” The image that came to me was that of the thousands of wagons on the trails west packed full of things people couldn’t conceive of leaving behind but which as they made their way across the great plains grew more and more cumbersome until they got tossed out on the prairie.   Jesus didn’t just give advice to the young man who had great possessions. He offered him an invitation. He said go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 

 

 

 

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