16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He 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, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
In Emmanuel Carrère’s book, The Kingdom, he writes something that one rarely hears. He writes that he identifies with the rich young ruler of our text. Carrère writes that he still feels the pull of the Christian message that, as he puts it, “to really win I’d have to lose.” Even so, other voices in his head win out. After reflecting on his great success and his great intelligence and his great wealth, he writes, “Nevertheless, I think that the little voice of the Gospel is right. And like the rich young man, I walk away, sad and pensive, for I have great wealth.”
Say what you will about this, but at least Carrère is exhibiting a degree of honesty rarely seen in our day. There are numbers of Christians who sing loudly in church, put money in the plate, and serve in various capacities, who, if they were placed in this story, would likewise walk away sad with the rich young man instead of giving it all away to stay with Jesus.
How about you? How about me?
Craig Keener observes that “Greek traditions also reported aristocratic young men who wanted to study under a famous teacher but were too spoiled to carry out what the teacher demanded.” Am I too spoiled to follow Jesus? Are you? What is clear is this: the young man in our text certainly was. Let us watch his exchange with Jesus.