“As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This opening sentence of the passage gives us a great deal of information. Jesus and his disciples were walking along a road. As was customary with rabbis as they journeyed, they taught their disciples who walked near them. People who lived or worked along the way would join the group hoping to glean a bit of spiritual wisdom. This particular day, this pleasant and somewhat leisurely walk was interrupted.
A man, who was very rich we are told later on, ran into the crowd, and knelt at the feet of Jesus blockading his way. Whatever Jesus was saying came to a halt. In this man’s mind his question was of far more importance that anything that might have been going on at the moment. He confronted Jesus with a question as deep as the ocean depths. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus didn’t answer his question. Instead, he addressed his rudeness by throwing a question back to him. “Why do you call me 2 good? No one is good but God alone.” In other words, “Are you trying to flatter me? Everyone else is walking along quietly listening to me. You seem to think you’re so important that everyone should stop what they’re doing and focus only on you and your question.” Rather coldly, Jesus then answered his question in the most rudimentary way. “You know the commandments: you shall not worship false gods; you shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother, and keep the Sabbath rest.”
The man’s retort revealed his inner frustration. The commandments, for the most part, teach what’s harmful to us, and society: killing, stealing, adultery, lying, cheating. There are only two positive directives: honor your father and mother, and observe the Sabbath. They basically teach us what NOT to do. “Teacher, all of these I have observed since my youth!” This answer revealed his deep spiritual frustration. “The commandments aren’t enough. There has to be more, but no one can tell me what it is! The way people talk about you I’m SURE you know the secret of eternal life. My life is great, but I know there’s more.”
The next line in the passage is so touching, so gentle, so like Jesus. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Several times in the gospels we’re told that Jesus LOOKED at someone. This is a look that peers into the soul. It’s the look of compassion and understanding, the look that bathes the person in love.
Jesus shared the secret with him. It had two parts. “Go, SELL what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure IN HEAVEN. Then, FOLLOW ME.”
Jesus was telling him that everything he owned, the riches and possessions, were binding him to earth. Everything over and above what he needed to live was a weight around his feet. Unless he freed himself of them he would never rise; he could never experience the liberation, the jubilation of eternal life. He would never be free enough to follow Jesus.
A short, but complete, commentary concludes the passage. “At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” This rich, entitled, man came to Jesus frustrated. He had everything, but he wanted more. This poor man from Nazareth held the secret he wanted. Was this “eternal life” he was seeking just another possession he wanted to add to his treasury of things? Would it be one more thing that would puff him up even more? He went away sad, empty, deflated.
I don’t think this man went away lost, never to experience “eternal life.” I believe his first, sad, painful step back home was the first pain of his rebirth. He realized that everything he thought gave him value, was a sham. His possessions were just things. They didn’t give him life. In fact, they smothered his life. He was sad because he knew Jesus was right. He was sad because he knew deep down, that he wasn’t ready to free-fall into God’s arms. He turned away from Jesus and returned to his possessions.
This account is a parable. Each of us has to digest it very personally. Each of us can spin our own ending to the story, an ending that touches our souls. In my ending he left remembering Jesus LOOKING at him. That look made all the difference in the world. It was the greatest and most valuable gift he would ever receive. He would never forget it.