Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 29 2013 - Matthew 19:13-30 – The rich man’s question

A rich man once came to Jesus to ask what good thing he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus' response to the man does not seem to fit well with our handy summaries of the gospel. It's obvious how Jesus should have dealt with the man. First he should have challenged his understanding of works-righteousness and told him that there was nothing he could do to gain eternal life. It's not about earning salvation, it's a matter of receiving it as a gift. Then he should have explained that the death he was shortly to suffer was to be an atoning sacrifice for this man's sins. He should then have told the man that he could only be justified through faith in Jesus and his sacrificial death. So he should have urged the man to believe in him and be saved before returning to enjoy his riches.

The way Jesus deals with this man defies all of our simplistic reductions of the gospel. Indeed, it may even be argued that the message Jesus had for him was not good news at all, for he calls him to let go of all that was precious to him.

Should we seek to press Jesus into the mould of our pocket-sized gospel or do we have to rethink our understanding of the gospel in the light of Jesus words?

Jesus calls this young man not to a moment of decision but to a life of following him. This call demands a radical reordering of every part of his life. Jesus' demand for the young man to give away all that he has is a call to toss aside all that stands in the way of following him. It is a call to reassess what is truly valuable. It also challenges him to rethink his easy assertion that he has kept the law perfectly from his youth. Has this man truly loved his neighbour as himself when he is so reluctant to use his riches to help the poor? Is he free from the sin of covetousness just because he did not want what was possessed by someone else?

The disciples' are perplexed when Jesus goes on to speak of how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. In their culture, riches were viewed as a sign of God's blessing and approval. But Jesus warns that riches are all too often a stumbling block; the one who possesses them feels self-sufficient and in need of nothing. The disciples' understanding of the kingdom needed a radical makeover.

Is this any less true of us – we who live in the prosperous West and who seem so reluctant to sacrifice our lifestyle so that our neighbours in other parts of the world may have food enough for themselves and their children? What would Jesus say to us?

Jesus challenges our understanding of the gospel. It's not just about faith as a set of beliefs or simple confession; it's about the lifelong transforming call to follow Jesus. If we have a concept of justification by faith that makes us feel that the letter of James is an epistle of straw, we need to look again at the message of Jesus. Jesus does not allow us to get away with a simplistic gospel. He calls us to costly discipleship which has the promise of a hundredfold treasures in the commonwealth of the people of God and an inheritance of glory to come.

Father, forgive me that I so often rewrite the gospel to suit my own desires. Lord Jesus, open my ears to hear clearly what you are saying to me and teach me what it means to follow you. I own you as Lord; may no part of my life be excluded from your kingdom rule. Spirit of God, help me to give up my own treasures in the light of the matchless treasure of Christ and his kingdom. May following him be all my joy and my delight.

Peter Misselbrook