The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
The Rich Young Man
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
I wrote about Luke’s in 2014 and looked at the differences in the three versions.
What can we deduce by ‘rich young man’? My post on Luke’s account says he was the leader of a synagogue because Luke used the Greek word arche to describe him.
Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Matthew’s words in the original manuscript imply that he is a magistrate, or justice of the peace. Henry also points out:
it is probable that he had abilities beyond his years, else his youth would have debarred him from the magistracy.
We are looking at a brilliant young man who is highly respected and comes from money.
He approaches Jesus — Mark says he ‘ran and knelt before’ Him — and asks what he must do to have eternal life (verse 16). The words he uses to address Jesus are of interest in the original manuscript. Henry explains (emphasis in the original):
He gives Christ an honourable title, Good Master—Didaskale agathe. It signifies not a ruling, but a teaching Master. His calling him Master, bespeaks his submissiveness, and willingness to be taught and good Master, his affection and peculiar respect to the Teacher, like that of Nicodemus, Thou art a Teacher come from God. We read not of any that addressed themselves to Christ more respectfully than that Master in Israel and this ruler.
John MacArthur has this (emphases mine):
Didaskolos, or master, or teacher. He acknowledges that He was a teacher of divine truth. Mark and Luke tell us he called Him “good.” It’s added here in the Authorized of Matthew, but it isn’t in the manuscripts of Matthew, but it is in Mark and Luke. And so he said, “good,” agathos. Kalos means good form, good on the outside; agathos means good on the inside, good inwardly, good morally, good in nature, good in essence. So he says I know that You are good. I know that You are a good person. I know that You’re moral. I know that You’re upright and I also know You teach and You teach divine truth. You perhaps know the secret of getting eternal life.
It is also noteworthy that the young man asked about eternal life. From that, we know he was not a Sadducee, who intellectualised theology and discounted the afterlife because it was irrational. He was more of a Pharisee in mindset, thinking of obedience to religious law and the next life.
Jesus responds initially to the way the young man’s addressed Him (verse 17). There was, He said, only One who is good, referring to God the Father. He is not revealing Himself as Christ Jesus here.
He then answers his question: obey the commandments and eternal life will follow.
The young man asks which commandments must be obeyed. Jesus mentions all those which concern the way we treat our fellow man and our parents (verses 18, 19): ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’.
The young man is certain he has maintained these all his life (verse 20), thereby setting himself up for a fall. Henry deduces the young man answered Jesus with a lack of respect:
By pride, and a vain conceit of his own merit and strength this is the ruin of thousands, who keep themselves miserable by fancying themselves happy. When Christ told him what commandments he must keep, he answered very scornfully …
The manner of his response and its content indicate that he had no idea he was sinning in some way every day. He considered himself to be perfect.
For that reason, Jesus put him in his place by saying that if he would be perfect, he should sell his possessions and become a disciple (verse 21). Remember, Jesus is omniscient. He knew what the sticking point — the source of temptation — was here: materialism. Recall His earlier words (Matthew 6:24):
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.[a]
The young man perceived he had kept the commandments towards his fellow men. Jesus was saying, in essence, ‘Okay, now keep the commandments honouring God: sell your possessions and give yourself to His service’.
The man couldn’t do it, because he ‘went away sorrowful’ (verse 22). In my exposition on Luke’s passage, I cited MacArthur’s sermon which explained that he would have been expected to maintain whatever property and money he had for his descendants or other family members. It’s a tough choice.
Perhaps the better — and humble — question would have been, ‘What must I do to repent and have my sins forgiven?’
As it was, he gave up God for Mammon. Henry asks:
What then would the sorrow be afterward, when his possessions would be gone, and all hopes of eternal life gone too?
Does this mean that all of us have to give up our possessions in order to be true Christians? MacArthur says no. This was a specific reply to a specific person, not an overall commandment:
The Lord didn’t say that to other folks. But do you have to be willing to do whatever the Lord asks you to do? Yes. And it may be different in different cases. But the Lord put the finger on the issue here. He took us right back to the principle of Luke 14:33, the people who are My disciples are the people who forsake all. And He says to the guy, “Look, are you willing to do what I tell you? And right now I’m telling you to get rid of everything.” And He knew right where He was talking because He knew this was most important to the guy. For some people it might be a car. For some people it might be a girl. For some people it might be a job or a career or a certain sin they want to indulge in. For this guy, it was his money and his possessions.
MacArthur goes on to contrast the rich young man’s response to that of Zacchaeus, the vilified tax collector who climbed into a tree to get a better glimpse of Jesus. Zacchaeus was not wanting materially, either. Yet:
Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “O behold, the half of my goods I give to the poor and if I’ve taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” You want to see the attitude of this guy? Boy, he knows he’s been doing wrong all the time and he says, “Oh, I’ve got to get my life right. I’ve got to get my life right. I’ve got to get it right. I’ve got to give everything back. And I’ve got to give all this stuff to the poor. And I’ve got to return to everybody four hundred percent.” This is the opposite, isn’t it? I mean, the guy want…the first thing he wanted to do was unload everything he had. And Jesus said, “This day is salvation come to this house, for he also is a son of Abraham.”
Here’s a true Jew. And, boy, this is real salvation. Why? Cause the guy can only think of what a sinner he is and he wants to unload all of the stuff that he’s taken unjustly from people and give them back, not only what they deserve but everything else he’s got. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.”
Our response to God’s requests says everything about us. May we, too, be able to release possessions, situations or relationships for His glory.
Next week’s reading continues this theme.
Next time: Matthew 19:23-30