He was an interested but hesitant follower. According to the dictates established by Jewish law, he was doing everything that God required perfectly. After all he loved God, he honored his parents, he never coveted his neighbor’s wife or his goods and he never killed anyone. So his question to Jesus is a curious one because he was not looking for a savior. He was doing anything that would condemn him; he was earning heaven all by himself.
So he would have considered his question to Jesus a safe question.. He was not looking for reassurances about his ability to follow the law. He approached Jesus because he had listened to him preach, saw his miracles and heard others call him the messiah. He was confident that he was doing what God required but what if the people were right about Jesus. If Jesus was God then he would confirm that he was doing exactly what God required.
He had also witnessed the intimacy between Jesus and his disciples and he longed for that kind of intimacy with God. He knew he was better at following the law than the disciples were following the law. But did he long for what they had or did he just want to be reassured he could get to heaven his way? His response to the answer he received tells us he only wanted was a pat on the back and that he could not do what was required to enter into intimacy with God.
The question we should be considering today is what is it we long for. What is it we desire? Do we desire intimacy with God or do we want to know we are good because we are obedient to the law? our internal desires will drive us to do anything to satisfy that desire. Jesus knowing the man’s desire was never going to be fulfilled by only following the law opened the door for Jesus to challenged him by telling him the cost of discipleship – total dependence on Jesus. Do we dare allow the words spoken to us in the scriptures to reveal the true intentions of our hearts?
The cost of discipleship is to surrender control of our desires and control of our lives for the sake of the gospel. If following the law leads to perfection, how does our dying to self be better for us? The response of Jesus to that man tells us that more is required of us than just following the law. Jesus did not tell the man he was doing everything required. He did not tell him to do more – do more alms giving, more prayer, more fasting No he said in addition to following the law he needed to stop depending on self, sell everything and start following Jesus.
That man had seen the life of the followers of Jesus. They had nowhere to lay their heads. They depended on others for their meals. They had nothing to call their own. How could he give up all he had worked to build up and follow Jesus?
If you stop and think about this story you can easily see that in one way this man was curious about who Jesus was but he was not ready to give up control of his life. He wanted God to be a part of his life but not the center of his life. He certainly did not want to give up his lifestyle, his affluence, his comfortable religion whose demands he could easily follow.
Therein lies the challenge for all of us. What do we want from our faith? What is it that our hearts truly desire? Do we desire an Intimacy with God that calls us to seek the pearl of great price and then sell everything in order to possess it (Mt. 13:46)? Or do we want a comfortable faith that allows us to be religious without relying on a savior?
The word of God is explicit when it says there is no way to the Father except through Jesus Christ. The word of God is explicit when it says in Jesus we will find our lives. The word of God is explicit when it says in Jesus is peace, joy, and abundant blessings. But the word of God is also explicit when it tells us that we will face hardships, persecution, isolation and uncertainty.
The young man faced the choice of uncertainty and dependence on Jesus or the choice of dependence on his own ability to be perfected by adhering to the law. Unfortunately, we see him make the one choice that left him totally self-reliant and despondent. We are so much like him because we often choose to be religiously perfect without surrendering our hearts to Jesus. What is it about discipleship that frightens us?
What is it about our faith that we are more comfortable relying on our own ability than on allowing the Spirit to guide us to holiness? The scriptures could not be any clearer in pointing out that it is in dying to self that we find life. But still we will seek God by every means possible except surrender of self.
If we were honest we would admit that there is something we are seeking that we have not found. That young man is us. He was seeking something he had not found it in all his self sacrificing and adherence to the demands of the law or in all his possessions. He sensed all he did was not enough and knew if he did more it would not be enough. He knows the answer is found in Jesus. We too know that all we seek is found in Jesus. But like him we simply cannot let go of whatever it is we think we cannot do without.
It is time to let go and find what so many of the saints found. It is time to be like Mary and say “let it be done according to your word.”