He was young and rich. According to the narrative, he came to Jesus asking: “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” to which Jesus, in part, replied, “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:16-17, NIV). The rest of the dialogue was electric: “‘Which ones?’ he inquired. Jesus replied, ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (vv. 18-22).
Having declared that he had kept the law, it was clear that loving God and his fellowman was not the priority it should have been. As Bible scholar Albert Barnes observes: “Jesus commanded him to [give up his wealth], therefore, to test his character, and to show him that he had not kept the law as he pretended, and thus to show him that he needed a better righteousness than his own. . . . He made an idol of his wealth. He loved it more than God. He had not kept the commandments from his youth up, nor had he kept them at all; and rather than do good with his treasures, and seek his salvation by obeying God, he chose to turn away from the Saviour and give over his inquiry about eternal life.” In some ways, the young man wanted what was in God’s hand without being willing to let go of what was in his. Unfortunately, some of us are the same way. While there is nothing inherently wrong with owning things, we need to ensure that those things do not “own” us.
It is interesting that in Mark’s narrative, Jesus started His instructions to the young ruler with the words “One thing you lack” (Mark 10:21). The “one thing” was his inability or unwillingness to show that he loved God more than he loved things. When challenged to do so, his “face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (v. 22). In her poem Treasures, Martha Snells-Nicholson, a bedridden invalid who suffered pain for over 35 years from four incurable diseases, writes:
One by one He took them from me / All the things I valued most
Until I was empty-handed / Every glittering toy was lost.
And I walked earth’s highways, grieving / In my rags and poverty
Till I heard His voice inviting / “Lift your empty hands to Me!”
So I held my hands toward heaven / And He filled them with a store
Of His own transcendent riches / Till they could contain no more.
And at last I comprehended / With my stupid mind and dull
That God COULD not pour His riches / Into hands already full!
The last sentence says it all. Are you willing to give up what is in your hands for what is in His?