Jesus’ realm is almost like an alternative universe. Actually not almost, it is an alternative to the world and our natural focus on virtually all the wrong stuff. But, we’re born that way and have to unlearn the things that are foreign to what Christ would have us do and think. People wonder why the Bible is so thick and why it takes scholars, theologians, pastors and teachers to help us understand it. Learning to re-think practically everything you thought you knew about right, wrong, truth, success, faith, philosophy and life in general is a supernatural endeavor that requires massive investment, significant resource and an eternal commitment.
People undergoing the transition from the old way to the new soon realize that at every turn they have to reconsider what they thought to be true. People who sincerely sought to follow Jesus from the very beginning discovered this. A prime and memorable example is someone we refer to as “the rich young ruler.”
Here’s a young guy who had evidently spent his life figuring out how to play by the rules, according to the realm of the generally acceptable. He kept those rules, evidently better than most. He approached Jesus, whom he assumed to be a rabbi that would no doubt commend him for his righteousness and give him a stellar report card for his adherence to the Law. He assured Jesus, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” (Matthew 19:20). It appears he believed joining the ranks of Jesus’ disciples would be easy, based on his résumé.
At about this point in the story, I try to put myself in Jesus’ place. As a pastor, here’s a guy who is, as we like to say, “bucks up.” He’s not hurting for cash. He’s a man of means. He asks about eternal life, but in the context it seems he’s interested in the possibility of following Jesus. I’m thinking, the last thing I would have wanted to “disinvite” about this guy to my church is his wealth! He was committed to the Word, ethically sound and he had financial means. What’s wrong with that? However, Jesus sees it as his liability and it must go. As Jesus often does, He upends my thinking.
It seems any time something is upended, the natural tendency is to want to put it back right-side-up, immediately. The problem is, things as they are aren’t “right-side-up.” Since the fall, they’ve been broken, twisted, perverted, upside-down and in need of being flipped over. But, as you may have noticed, as quickly as we try to turn things up, the way they should be, the world insists on calling darkness, light; right, wrong; evil, good and good, evil (see Isa. 5:20). Outside Christ’s realm, immorality is not immoral and the only immoral thing to do is to say it is.
What does all this have to do with the rich young ruler? In the world’s eyes, his wealth would have likely been his strongest asset. But, Jesus saw it as his “achilles heel.” Something that could have been a benefit and resource to the Kingdom, Christ knew, in this case, would have been a liability, because of an upended, fallen nature. As long as that idol remained, following Jesus would not be a viable option. And the attachment to his idol was evident in his inability to let go.
The rich young ruler was unwilling to let Jesus control his world. He was not able to let the King’s priorities become his priorities. The price was too great. He no doubt believed he had sacrificed enough in the keeping of the Law to near human perfection and giving up his wealth was unnecessarily costly. But, it was the cost of discipleship.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”