The Rich Young Ruler
Adapted from a sermon by Fr Sam Fanous
Passage: Matthew 19:16-22
“Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.””– Matthew 19:21
In the eyes of the community, this rich, young ruler was probably a righteous person. He was probably respected and honoured. When he heard Jesus teaching about eternal life, it struck a chord. He saw all the righteous deeds he was doing but was not entirely sure if it was enough to inherit eternal life.
So he went to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16)
This tells us that he is serious and honest about his spiritual life. He’s like most of us coming to church on Sunday. Hopefully, we ask ourselves similar questions;
Am I going to go to heaven?
If I die today, where will I be?
To this question, Jesus went back to basics – keep the commandments.
To the young ruler who had kept the commandments since his youth, he was probably pretty happy at this point.
But then Jesus drops a bombshell, for He knew there was one thing missing in his life. Jesus acknowledges that he had many positive attributes, but the one thing he lacked far outweighed all the rest. It wasn’t a simple tweak he needed, but he lacked it completely.
Without this essential component, all he did meant nothing. He could not imagine parting with his possessions which meant his eternity had been lost.
He went away sorrowful for the possessions he could not part with. We never hear the name of this person and we never find out if returned. It almost seems unfair that Jesus watched him leave and didn’t try to call him back. There was no compromises, His commandment is clear – “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
There was nothing more that Christ could do for him. For Christ knew “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples heard this and were confused at the multitude of rich yet righteous people that would miss out on the Kingdom of Heaven. For it is impossible for someone who relies on riches to enter the Kingdom.
What does this all mean to us today? For some of us, there may be something we hold in our hears that stops us from getting closer to God, something we can’t seem to shake off. Whether it be our desire for success, money, an impure relationship, or just laziness, this is the one thing we lack that will stop us from entering the Kingdom.
If you feel in your heart that there is one person that you can’t forgive, even if you are completely in the right and they’re completely in the wrong which is almost never the case, then that is a massive boulder in your heart that Christ cannot work around. The hatred and the bitterness you are holding on to is comparable to the young ruler and his possessions.
He trusted in his riches just like some people trust in their bitterness and cling so tightly to the point where it destroys them. Christ cannot fix a person that trusts in their false riches more than anything else.
The young ruler had no sin, but he loved his possessions more than he loved Christ. We do not inherit eternal life for bad things we did not do. The absence of bad does not make us good. At best, it makes us neutral and we know what God thinks of lukewarm faith; “because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of Mymouth” – Revelations 3:16
There needs to be more. There needs to be a relationship and there needs to be love. Whatever boulder that prevents love from reaching my heart needs to be overcome if I want to inherit the Kingdom. For the rich young ruler, his love of possessions outweighed his love for God. But Jesus tells him to sell everything and realise that God is enough. If we love anything more than we love God, we must get rid before we can even start loving God.
The lack of love that I suffer is not because of a sin that I am struggling with, it is that I don’t love God enough. Sins are symptoms of my lack of love, if I want to be made well, I must first address the underlying cause.
We see a very similar story at the house of Mary and Martha. Martha is busy preparing food and stressing at the amount of work there is to do, while her sister is sitting down, doing seemingly nothing at Christ’s feet. Martha complains to Jesus saying, ““Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”(Luke 10:40)
Jesus turns to her in a very surprising way. He doesn’t say, “yes Mary, help your sister,” He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”(Luke 10:42)
And what was the one needed thing that Mary chose? To sit at Christ’s feet. Both were great disciples of Christ, but Martha was distracted while Mary had her priorities in order. She sat at Christ’s feet and ignored everything else around her.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we come to church and forget our families and our responsibilities, but we take it in context. Christ is priority number one. Nothing outweighs times spent at His feet.
I have money, but if I lose it, I am still happy because I have the one thing that can never be taken away. I have Christ, and He is sufficient for all my needs. Just as Job said when all was taken away from him, “Naked I came from the womb, and naked I shall return, the Lord has given and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
This is true love that Christ asks from us. St Isaac the Syrian used to describe the presence of God as drunkenness. Being in His presence is euphotic. It is not striving not to do bad things, but striving to experience God.
Why are we in this? What is my purpose? My purpose is to use each day to experience of the love of God, and not a rule book of faith that stops me from doing the wrong thing.