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The Rich Young Ruler

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

A Thought to Take to Heart

He ran eagerly to Jesus. He went away sorrowful. He asked a most profound question – what must I do to inherit eternal life? He received a most troubling answer – go and sell all that you have and give to the poor. It was not what this rich young ruler expected – but it was what he needed. The ruler had a problem and only Jesus had the answer.

This young ruler’s problem was not a moral problem – he had kept those commandments since he was a boy. His problem went much deeper. The text tells us that he had “great possessions.” But the problem wasn’t simply that he had possessions – the problem was that his possessions had him. His possessions controlled his heart – they came between him and his God.

When Jesus said, “You lack one thing,” he turned the focus away from what he possessed to what he was missing. He had material possessions – he even had a sterling moral character – but he didn’t have that one thing that would put all of this in the proper perspective.

Did you notice that when Jesus quoted the commandments, he left out those relating to God? Have no other gods before me – make no graven images – do not take the Lord’s name in vain – keep the Sabbath holy. By doing so, he highlights the ruler’s problem – his spiritual focus was only horizontal; it did not look up with a supreme love for God. He never got past the first commandment – love God with all of your being.

God’s love for this ruler was on display daily, and now the ultimate expression of that love was standing right in front of him! What God requires of us is that we love him in return. That love will affect every aspect of our lives. Like the ruler, we will keep his commandments – but unlike the ruler, we will be motivated to do so by our love for him. Obviously bothered by this encounter, his apostles asked, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus’ answer makes it clear – salvation is possible for those who submit wholly to God.

In our affluence and physical comforts, we need to take this encounter to heart. While Jesus did not demand an across-the-board selling of possessions for his disciples, he does require that our attitude toward them be right. And that can happen only when we first love God supremely.

Thomas Larkin

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