The Heart of the Matter
by Sarah Anderson
(Read Luke 18:18-23. Yeah, we really want you to read it!)
Sometimes when I read through the Gospels and listen in on the conversations Jesus had with people, He doesn’t seem like the best conversationalist. He had a tendency to avoid the question being asked and instead brings up something that seems . . . different. He had the ability to catch people off guard, to see, really see the heart of what was going on and start addressing that, and not necessarily the words that a person managed to vocalize.
In one story, a wealthy ruler searches Jesus out to ask him a question—a pretty important question too. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18 NIV). I can imagine that the ruler, the disciples and everyone gathered close enough to listen in on the conversation leaned in a little closer in hope of catching what Jesus had to say.
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone (Luke 18:19 NIV). Jesus said this because He wanted to help people start connecting the dots between Him and God. Then Jesus says: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother’’” (Luke 18:20 NIV).
The ruler responded: “All these I have kept since I was a boy” (Luke 18:21 NIV).
Jesus knew what this guy was really getting at—after all, He was the Son of God. Jesus knew that this pointed question was one the rich ruler thought he already knew the answer to. He thought this whole eternal life deal had a lot to do with keeping the commandments, something he wasn’t ashamed to admit he was pretty good at—really good at. So good that he had the courage to tell the Son of God he had kept every single commandment since he was young. It was almost like he was expecting a gold star, a pat on the backside, a high five for all his effort—maybe even an extra special spot in heaven because of his obedience.
But Jesus doesn’t give him a star. He basically says, “You’ve kept all of the commandments? Then there is only one thing left for you to do to ensure eternal life. Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor.” (See Luke 18:22.) You can probably imagine how the rich ruler reacted to that. Maybe he mentally started going through the law seeing if he missed something about selling all your possessions. Or maybe he started to think of an excuse, a quick way out of the conversation. All the Bible says is when the man heard what Jesus was asking of him in order to get the eternal life he longed for, he became very sad (Luke 18:23).
We don’t ever hear about what happens with the rich ruler after this. Maybe he walked away angry. Maybe he was embarrassed. Maybe he was convicted. But whatever happens, Jesus doesn’t talk him into anything—He doesn’t guilt him into making a life-altering decision. He doesn’t condemn him in front of everyone hanging around. He doesn’t even plead with him to reconsider the life he was leading. Jesus lets the rich man go. He leaves the ball in his court, and allows him to be the one to ultimately make the decision about what will define his life.
It was a sobering reality check. Here was a man, who had done things right, followed the right rules, attended the right services, observed the important holidays and observances but somehow still fell short of the one thing he was looking for. Life. He wanted eternal life. And he thought all he had managed to accomplish and acquire was enough to get exactly what he wanted. But it wasn’t. And he didn’t even know it until Jesus Himself spelled it out.
I don’t think the moral of this encounter is that selling all you have is the key to eternal life. I don’t think tucked in the book of Luke is the real key to a relationship with Jesus—poverty. Not that holding loosely to our stuff is a bad thing. But I think the point being made here has more to do with holding loosely to ourselves. I think the point is that even when we are doing all the right things, we can still miss Jesus—because we are so bent on us, so focused on what we have to offer, what we have accomplished, that we miss the point of it all. And Jesus is the point. Nothing we own, nothing we have done, nothing we will do outweighs the importance of Jesus.
A lot of us would look at what the rich ruler was about on the outside and think that he had it together, that his example was worth following. But at the end of the day, the rich ruler was really about nothing more than himself and that was enough to stand in the way between him and the life he needed—the life Jesus wanted to give him.
All of us, at some point or another, are going to have the kind of encounter with Jesus that the rich ruler had. Sooner or later we are going to have to decide whether we are going to “sell our stuff”—whether we’ll let go of ourselves for the sake of life, for the sake of seeing Jesus. It might not look the same for everyone. It may not have anything to do with your possessions. But eventually you have to make a call. Is what I am living for, is what I am living about, me? Or is it about Jesus? Have I built my life to glorify myself, or to point towards the One who got me where I am? Life is on the line. Not just eternal life, and not just physical life—but significance in life, purpose in life, direction in life. Where are we headed? Are we walking away from an encounter with Jesus, sad, because we can’t get over ourselves, or are we looking Him straight in the face and saying, “Whatever it takes, I’ll do it. It isn’t about me. It’s about You. Make me about You.”
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