Again my thoughts are drawn back to the encounter between Jesus and the rich young ruler. Jesus readily acknowledges that the young man knows the law: You know the commandments: Do not do not commit murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and your mother’” (Mark 10:19). As Jesus rehearses this summary of the Mosaic Law, the young man’s countenance must have brightened; quite evidently he had taken the covenant stipulations seriously. He hadn’t committed murder. He hadn’t been sleeping around. He had stolen from no one. His business transactions had been flawless. He had honored his parents. Here was a young, religious man who took the matter of holiness seriously. He knew who he was — a member of the covenant community of Israel – and he took that membership and its responsibilities and privileges seriously. Teacher,” he declared, all these I have kept since I was a boy” (Mark 10:20).

Or so it seemed. Was the young man speaking arrogantly? Was Jesus angered by the young man’s assertion that he had kept the covenant faithfully? Only Mark describes Jesus’ expression as he looked at the young man after his declaration of personal covenant faithfulness. What message did Jesus’ expression send to the man kneeling before him? One of disapproval? Skepticism? Anger? Disappointment? Shock? Mark writes: Jesus looked at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21). And then he lovingly hurt him with a word of deep discernment. One thing you lack,” he said. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21.)

To be frank, at first glance this request of Jesus appears outrageous, hurtful, uncompromising, harsh, and theologically skewed; both the young ruler and the surrounding crowd – including Jesus’ own disciples – thought so. Who of us would have responded well to such a request? In this Jewish man’s society – the society to which the disciples also belonged – wealth was a sign of blessing, a sign that the covenant stipulations had been obeyed faithfully. And now, in light of the young man’s request to know how to enter the life of the age to come, a sign of faithfulness to the covenant – the blessing of wealth – was to be recklessly discarded as an extravagant gift to the poor?

Yet Jesus is insistent. Jesus saw something that the young man didn’t discern – an excessive love in this image-bearer’s heart for what he possessed. It is at this specific point that Jesus invites the young man to change, to give away all that he possesses, all that he perceives to be signs of covenant blessing, and to follow him.

Oh Lord, how demanding you can be,” we exclaim. How extravagant you are in what you ask of us, how persistent you are that we change and in the changing be healed. What is it that you perceive that we do not see, that you discern and that remains veiled to us?” 

Sadly, at least at this point in time, the young man rose to his feet and walked away, grieving over what Jesus has asked of him. At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mark 10:22). Stop him,” we call out to Jesus. Tell him to come back. Remind him of your love for him. Why are you letting him walk away? Don’t you see that you have hurt him? That you have asked too much? That he can’t give you what you are demanding? What are you doing, Lord?” An invitation offered and refused. Oh, how hard these invitations can be.

Continued next week

You can catch up with all of Chris’s posts at Conversations with Chris.”