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The Rich Young Ruler

We ask a lot of questions when we read the story of the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23). What was his motivation? What kind of man was he? What was his background? We also want to critique. We say we would handle the situation differently. We would do whatever it would take to follow Jesus. But the more I study this passage, the more I empathize with this man because when I look at him, I see myself. May we not be so hard on him because we are all just like him.

What do we know about this man? He was a man of influence. He probably had many things going for him — successful, nice house, well-paying job, money in the bank and a bright future. That is, until he approaches Jesus. In His conversation with this man, Jesus starts with his past, but then focuses on his future — what remains to be done — when the rich young ruler asks the follow-up question: “What do I still lack?”

What is my attitude? Is it, “I have done the things that the Law has commanded of me,” or “the Law reveals my imperfections”? Do we define our obedience by some of the laws of God, or all of God’s laws? The rich young ruler had kept the Law — partially — but realized something was missing. That’s what prompted him to ask about obtaining eternal life. Why else would he come to Jesus like he did, running, kneeling and showing respect?

What do I still lack? This is the million-dollar question. Despite the good life that he had lived, he still lacked something. And he knew it. Jesus, knowing his heart, hits a place in the Law where the ruler was deficient (Ex. 20:3). I wonder what Jesus would tell us if we asked the same question. Would we even be brave enough to ask Him that question? We may not like the answer. The rich young ruler didn’t.

What would be my response? Even in his response, we see a glimpse of this man’s heart. He didn’t scoff at Jesus’ command. It saddened him that he wasn’t able to find within himself the ability to carry out the command. He wasn’t willing to pay the price for eternal life. Is there something we hold dear, something we couldn’t bring ourselves to give up — even for heaven? All of us “still lack something” in our spiritual lives. There are always more steps we need to take to come closer to God.

Steven Matthews


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