“What Must I Do?”

18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 

Luke 18:18-27 ESV via biblegateway.com

I love that Jesus didn’t just give pithy answers to questions, but often went in roundabout ways to explore the motives behind them. I also love how He would use others’ questions, mixed with parables, metaphors, or other figurative language to stimulate further thought. And His parables and word pictures, while short and simple, have layers of meaning that cause us to ponder deeper issues.

The “Rich Young Ruler” in the above story came to Jesus with a question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Instead of answering the question, Jesus seems to get distracted by the young man’s greeting. “Why do you call me ‘Good?'” Did the young man really think that Jesus was better, or wiser, or more righteous than the religious leaders of the day? Or was he trying to flatter Jesus? Or did he think that Jesus would see him as an equal (or even superior) when he found out how righteous the ruler was? Jesus got to the heart of the greeting– “No one is good except God alone.” And therein lies the true answer to the ruler’s question, as well. There is nothing anyone can do to be “Good” enough to inherit eternal life.

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Jesus could have said this, but would the young ruler have accepted this answer? Probably not. His question betrays an assumption that he WAS good enough– that he had already done all that was required and that Jesus would surely be impressed and announce to the crowd that here was an example of someone who was worthy of eternal life. Instead, Jesus led the man through his pride by naming a few of the commandments– the very ones the ruler was so sure of. Indeed, this seemed to be exactly what the ruler was hoping to hear– proof that he had “passed the test.” Ironically, he was addressing Jesus as “Good teacher, ” but seemed to miss that fact that he was also addressing the only One who is truly Good! Jesus–God in the flesh — the very one whose death would guarantee that anyone would “inherit” eternal life. This young ruler doesn’t want Jesus to be his “Lord” and “Savior,” he just wants Jesus’s opinion.

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But then, Jesus pulled the rug out from under this man’s assumptions. “One thing you still lack.” One thing…I’m sure the young ruler thought it would be a fine point in the laws or traditions he know so well– some minor point that could be cleared up with a gift or a small offering. I find this a fascinating statement, because it is followed by “sell all you have and distribute to the poor…” It seems like such an oxymoronic statement. You lack one thing, therefore, you must give away all that you have. How is that possible? Because the “one thing” the rich man lacked was not an object; not something he could check off a list of “things I can do to impress the religious leaders.” This man lacked humility; he lacked a self-awareness of his own need. And he lacked the understanding of what it means to “inherit” eternal life. No one “earns” an inheritance. Even someone who is rewarded with an inheritance must trust in the goodwill of the person writing the will, and will only inherit under the terms of the will. Jesus’s “terms” were not that the man had to become destitute or spend the rest of this life as a beggar. But faced with the choice of his comfortable life in the here and now, or eternal and abundant life in heaven on God’s terms, this man chose earthly wealth and spiritual poverty.

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Almost lost at the end of Jesus’s surprising answer are the last two phrases, “and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” This man wanted eternal life as an extension of his comfortable life on earth. He did NOT want eternal life enough to sacrifice his present comforts or his preconceived notions of “goodness.” He did not want to follow Christ– he only wanted to consult with Him.

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I find it uncomfortable to hear about the young ruler’s rejection of Christ. I understand the initial shock of the disciples as Jesus uses the illustration of a camel going through the eye of a needle to compare with a “rich” person coming into the kingdom of God. Wasn’t Abraham wealthy? Wasn’t Solomon rich? What about King David? If riches make it impossible to follow Christ, who can gain eternal life? Thankfully, Jesus redirects the focus– it’s not about the riches; and it’s not about what we “do”– it is God’s “Good” pleasure to give eternal life to those who choose to “follow” Him.

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“Good Teacher and Lord, help me to remember this lesson as I come before you in prayer. You have not asked me to ‘earn’ my inheritance. It is your gift to answer my prayers as you see fit; to be the Lord of my life; to be merciful and gracious to me; to prepare a place for me to live with You for eternity. What you ask of me is that I ‘follow’ you– that I listen to your call; that I accept Your “terms” of inheritance; that I share Your Grace and Mercy with those around me.”

Reflections…

Matthew 7:7-12 New International Version (NIV)

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

God created us in His image–when we look at someone else, we see an image of Almighty God, albeit one distorted by sin and the effects of a fallen world.  Jesus came to be a perfect reflection of the Father, and to restore our ability to more accurately reflect Him in the world around us.  As one who was able to perfectly fulfill the Law, Jesus summed up the Law and Prophets in a simple phrase we call “The Golden Rule”– Do to others what you would have them do to you.  We all want people to respect us, to help us, to believe us, to listen to us, to encourage us, to share with us, and to live in peace with us.  We also want people to respect our boundaries and privacy, and to forgive us when we mess up.

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Unfortunately, we are more often a reflection of the evil around us than the God who made us–we treat others with disdain; we cheat and lie (or tell half-truths); we point fingers at our “wicked” neighbors, while giving ourselves a “pass” for our own “shortcomings”.  We put others down, make fun of their mistakes, spread rumors, and call them names.  We take advantage of them, make demands of them, use and abuse them.  We hold grudges, we “unfriend” them, and we exaggerate their faults to others.  In fact, we spend time complaining about how badly others treat us, while passing that same treatment on to someone new.  And we don’t even see the hypocricy–in ourselves!

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There is another simple phrase–“Hurt people hurt people.”  In other words, people who are carrying hurt and bitterness pass it on to others.  They see insults in the most innocent phrases; they hang on to grudges and suspicion; they criticize and condemn others; they spread anger and hatred and negativity.  They see evil intent in everyone else’s words and actions, and justify the evil intent of their own by pointing their fingers.  Many people do it while proclaiming their own “righteousness.”  “I just tell it like it is—I call ’em as I see ’em.”  “I just think you need to know…”  “If you treated me better I wouldn’t have to be so mean/angry/ etc.”  “You’re what’s wrong with this world..”  “I deserve better than this..”

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It’s little wonder, then, that so many people have a distorted view of God– they believe he’s harsh, unforgiving, critical and demanding, just waiting for them to mess up so he can punish them.  They believe this, in part, because sin twists our ability to see the truth.  But they also believe it because they see these characteristics in the very people who proudly (even arrogantly) carry the name of Christ.

“Do to others what you would have them do to you…”  “Ask, and it will be given to you….Knock and the door will be opened to you.”  God is not harsh; neither is he a doormat.  He wants us to live in harmony and peace– not demanding or stealing, but asking and giving generously.  He wants us to speak the truth in love, not justifying ourselves at the expense of someone else, or jumping to conclusions or snap judgments.  He wants us to knock on doors– not break them down or walk away in isolation; not locking everyone out or dragging them inside our space against their will.  Jesus modeled how we are to live.  He had no home, but welcomed those who wanted to follow him, and accepted invitations from Pharisees and sinners alike.  He spoke harshly only to those who were harsh and arrogant, but he did not provoke arguments, and he spoke words of healing to those who were hurt, even those who mocked him.  He had only what he carried with him, yet he withheld nothing that he could give when it was in his power to do so– sharing his food, sharing the wisdom of parables, sharing his healing touch and compassionate heart.  He mentioned Hell more than any other Bible figure, but never with relish;  His desire is that all might repent and escape their just punishment.  Hurt people who encountered Jesus were transformed by his presence.  They still are being transformed!  But transformed people should be the ones to stop spreading hurt, shouldn’t they?  If hurt people hurt people, shouldn’t transformed lives transform lives?

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As I prepare to pray, today, I need to go back and reflect on how I reflect God’s character–Am I distorting His image?  Am I hurting people, or pointing the way to the One who can provide healing and transformation?

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Lord, help me to see you clearly, and reflect you more accurately to a dark and hurting world.  Help others to see in me your compassion, your love, and your desire to heal and restore.  Help me to reflect on all the good gifts you have given– joy, peace, hope, redemption, patience, kindness, self-control, love, perseverance, gentleness, goodness, trust, wisdom, truth, newness of purpose and life; help me to reflect those same good gifts as I go through this day that you have made.

To Love Thee More Dearly

How can I love Jesus more than I already do?  If I can love him more, does that mean that I don’t love Him enough?  That I don’t really love Him as much as I think I do?  That I love Him the wrong way?  How can I “love thee more dearly…day by day”

I want to explore the second prayer in the folk rock song “Day by Day” from the musical “Godspell” (see yesterday’s post).  When I write about pursuing prayer, this is a major focus of the pursuit– to develop my love for Jesus.  But there’s more to it than just spending more time, or even “better” time in prayer.

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I love my husband, and that love grows over the years– not because we are in an eternal “honeymoon” period, where life is rosy and all I know about him is the wonderful image I’ve built up–but because in living with him, working with him, even struggling with him, I learn to value who he really is.  I learn about qualities I never knew he had.  I learn to trust him and respect his judgment; I learn about the deepest part of his heart that he only shares with those closest to him.  And even though I learn about his faults, I see him desiring to be the best that he can be.  In his turn, my husband does the same with me– learning my strengths and weaknesses.  Together we learn how to work together to strengthen and support each other.  We even learn how to argue better!

But we all know marriages (and no marriage is immune) where doubt, distrust, disdain, and despair creep in.  The very qualities that attracted us in the beginning become sore spots that tear us apart.  The joy is swallowed up in little hurts that go unresolved; little misunderstandings that grow into lengthy silences and slammed doors.  Struggles that should bring us together cause us to run to separate corners.  Our feelings change, our hopes are dashed, and our relationship crumbles

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Relationships require trust–if I say that I love God, but I don’t trust Him, I’m not being honest with myself.  If I pray to Him, but I don’t really think He’s listening; if I read His word, but make excuses for my continued disobedience–I don’t really love Him.  I may idolize Him, even worship Him.  But I don’t really love Him.

Unlike a marriage partner, family member, or close friend, God’s love for us never changes.  We never have to pray that Jesus should love US more dearly.  It’s impossible.  The same love that spoke the universe into being and designed you to be the awesome and unique person you are, is the same love that stretched out his arms so they could be nailed to the cross– the same love that calls out to you no matter what you’ve done or who you are and offers you peace, joy, and rest.  Loving Jesus isn’t a matter of measuring how I feel about Him from day to day, but spending each day learning to know Him better for who He is and not just what He has done or what He can do for me.  The prayer should be for me to really learn better how to honor Him, how to trust Him, how to obey Him, praise Him, listen to Him, and walk close to him.

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More about this last one Monday…

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