Matthew 19: 16 – 29 (Mark 10:17 – 30 and Luke 18: 18 – 30)
All three of the gospels place the story right after Jesus blesses the little children. It’s a scene that always elicits warm, cuddly images in the mind. In each He speaks about how the “Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these”. Evidently the young man was around when it was said because that is what he asks about first. “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” he asks. Notice that he didn’t ask what things but thing, singular. He probably thought it’s better to start the bidding off low than to come in too high. Heaven, just like everything else in his life had to be boiled down to a transaction. Resources required verses the reward expected. The transactional life is devoid of meaning, sacrifice and true love. The transactional life is all about the promotion, care and furtherance of self. A life where everything encountered is boiled down to a transaction. Jesus tells our friend to simply follow the commandments. And he replies “which ones?” Again the transactional life is all about expending the least amount for the greatest gain. We need specificity here.
Jesus replies with five and leaves five out. If you have taken an active listening class you know that what’s not said is often more important than what is. The ones omitted were the four that deal with our relationship with God and one glaring omission from those that deal with our earthly relationships. “Do not covet”. Did Jesus forget it or did He intentionally leave it out? I believe it was the latter. Jesus knew which one this young man struggled with. He, like many of us struggle with coveting. The desire to possess items or at least like items we see others have. We call it “keeping up with the Jones’” and this young man was the original Jones. He probably had possessions many envied, but even at this young age, our friend could see it wasn’t enough. Coveting, like all addictions lead us to only want more. It places our wants, our desires above those of God for our lives. “All these I have kept since my youth” the young man says. He then adds “What more do I lack?”
The transactional life indeed lacks much. Warm, loving, enduring relationships simply have no value compared to the amount of effort it takes. As a result, relationships (both earthly and with God) tend to be shallow. This man lacked depth and, yet Jesus didn’t try to teach him directly. No Jesus offered him an act, a thing that would guarantee his trip to Heaven. “Go sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor”. Now was Jesus espousing wealth sharing program? No, He was showing this man the real reason that he felt lacking. The things were worth more than the relationship with God. And when a thing (or things) are worth more than God it’s an idol. Even if the idol is me. When my desire to acquire possessions exceeds my desire to draw closer to God, I AM THE IDOL!!!
The man lowered his head and then turned and walked away. Everyone watched him make his decision and leave. The thing’s had won. The young man couldn’t conceive of a life without his possessions, even eternal life. Think about that for a minute and ask yourself is this me? Do I have something or things that I value more than my relationship with God? If God said to you today to do the above, would you? Could you turn your back on everything you have acquired in this world simply to prove your love of God? There are many things that I would easily get rid of. There are several things that I would begrudgingly let go of. And then there my treasured items. Most have sentimental value, mementos of folks who have passed. Leaving me wiser and better for their time spent in my life; it is these items that might make me turn and leave as well. And yet my most prized possession is God’s word which He left for me. In it I can read that this world is not my permanent home. That I too will pass on. What will I leave to my children, possessions or the knowledge that His Word is to be most prized.