February 27 – Matthew 19:16-22

This week, in the story of the rich young ruler, we’ll see that Jesus actually asked the man to give up far more than his “great possessions.” Where the young man came to Jesus with thoughts of performance and reward, Jesus instead challenged him to give up his false views of himself and of God. But Jesus also offered him a better way, and speaking to us today Jesus challenges the same in us and offers the same to us.

In our discussion we’ll take a moment to look at the young man’s side of the story, which reveals much of his thinking. First, we should wonder, why would a fabulously wealthy man who had kept “all” the commandments (perhaps identifying him as a Pharisee) go looking for Jesus? Why, later in the conversation, does he ask, “What do I still lack?” The man with everything knows he’s missing something—quite clearly God is at work in his life, unsettling whatever norms or comfort the man has attained and driving him to seek something greater.

Upon finding Jesus the man asked, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Clearly the man viewed eternal life (a phrase that summarizes the whole package of belonging to God’s Kingdom in this world and the world to come) as transactional, i..e. do the correct things and you’ll be rewarded by God. We may shake our heads at this but we should take a hard look at ourselves here. Where do we expect God to reward our behavior, either with salvation or with other blessings? Where do we grow frustrated with God and feel as though he’s not holding up his end of the relationship? We live in a world that is captivated by performance and runs off transaction (ex. the Oscars)—we are just as susceptible to this grave error as the young man was.

That’s likely why Jesus corrected the man, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.” Jesus revealed the man has all the wrong things in mind, that he’s assumed he could perform his way into the Kingdom. The man’s view of himself and his own capabilities is horribly skewed; only God in his holiness and perfection can truly be called good, and in God’s sight the man is anything but one good deed shy of earning eternal life.

But the man didn’t just need to give up his performance and inflated view of self—he’s also performing for the wrong God in the first place. Jesus revealed, by the end, what the man would refuse to do in exchange for salvation (meaning he’s not even playing by his own made-up transactional rules). The man simply won’t part with his wealth, which we can assume would also mean losing social standing and power, particularly if he, an elite Pharisee, would stoop to listen to Jesus. Wealth, power, prestige, performance—somewhere in that tangle was the true object of his worship, and he left as its devoted follower.

However, this isn’t just a story about exposing a man’s hypocrisy. Notice that Jesus extended an invite to him: “Come follow me.”(19:21) I don’t think this was a ploy to call the man’s bluff; I think the offer was earnest considering, in Mark’s account, Jesus looked at the man and “loved him” (Mark. 10:21; fun fact: that’s the only reference to Jesus loving someone in all of Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Jesus legitimately offered the man a better way, a way of freedom from the chains of sin where he could hope in Jesus’ righteousness rather than his own and worship the one true God rather than a god of his own making.

Lastly, we should wonder what Jesus is saying to us here. We might be quick to react with our own assumptions, “Oh Jesus doesn’t mean I should go and sell everything too, that would be silly!” And that’s correct to a degree; Jesus never vilifies wealth itself as evil, and plenty of early disciples leveraged their wealth for the sake of the Kingdom without bankrupting themselves (ex. Lydia, Acts 16). Much more could be said about tending to your responsibilities, taking care of your family, etc. etc., but we should be on guard here. We can all too easily rationalize any standard of wealth (presumably billionaires have self-satisfactory reasons for keeping their billions).

Certainly, we should take Jesus’ primary point about idolatry to heart here and examine any measure of conviction it produces in us; is there anything, wealth or otherwise, that I worship more than God? But we should also ask ourselves, would releasing my hold on this thing help release the hold it has on me? This week may we sense the freedom Jesus offers us in following him and, where he asks, to give freely of anything he has given us.

Questions for Discussion
• Could someone read Matthew 19:16-22 for us?

• What stood out to you in this passage?

• Take a look at the things the young man said to Jesus. What do you think was going on in his head here?

• Why do you think Jesus told him “there is only one who is good”?

• Why do you think Jesus zeroed in on the man’s possessions?

• What is convicting to you about this passage?

• What does this passage have to say about how we relate to money and possessions?