Church of England Diocese of Birmingham Frankley

A Tragic Moment

9 Oct 2021, 11 p.m.

A rich, young ruler went away grieving because Jesus had asked him to sell all he had, give to the poor and follow him.

We can make a huge difference in the lives of some poor people through our giving. God is just and merciful. He agrees with our prime minister that there needs to be a levelling up in our society so that the poor have opportunities as well as the rich.

Those in poverty will have a rough winter without help. Many rely on food banks already. As the furlough scheme comes to an end this week and the £20.00 extra given in Universal credit is taken away, many more will be left in crisis. The huge increase in gas prices and council tax will mean many will no longer be able to heat their homes.

Many wealthy people live lives smothered by drugs or alcohol or engage in promiscuous sexual relationships to blot out their inner emptiness.

The more money a person has, the more they have to worry about it. In contrast lives of unencumbered simplicity can be lives of great joy. “It’s a gift to be simple; it’s a gift to be free.” St Francis stripped naked to give his clothes away and his follower’s embraced poverty delighting in nature, humour, song and dance.

Early communities of monks and nuns didn’t have to worry about what to wear or where to live. They were more available to spend time loving God and others, more able to care through hospitals, inns and schools.

The rich young ruler appeared to have everything. Matthew tells us he was young. Luke tells us he was a ruler. There is no better time to come to Jesus than in our youth. Jesus can make something special out of our entire lifetime.

The man had money and possessions and probably the power and popularity money brings.

He wanted to do what was right. When Jesus asked him if he knew the commandments, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother” he was able to say he had kept all those things since his youth.

This suggests he didn’t use his power to gain his wealth falsely. Few business people behave this honourably.

The commandments Jesus quoted focus on what he didn’t do. He never did people any harm, but there is no evidence that he used his wealth to do the good he could have done.

He was a ruler, possibly in the synagogue, a person of influence over others like the young men Bishop David is keen to appoint into positions of leadership in our churches, safe and reliable. He knew the scriptures and acted on them. He was a good family man who looked after his mum and dad, religious, hard working, not involved in wrong sexual relationships, a worthy role model for others.

He had what most people want, but not what matters. He was unsatisfied and unfulfilled. His clean living and religious activity had not satisfied the deep longing of his soul. It had failed to give him what he wanted most, a relationship with God.

He came running, interrupting Jesus. If anyone could help him Jesus could. He was urgent, recognising he may not have this opportunity again. He came humbly, kneeling before Jesus. He didn’t use his status or wealth to impress. He recognised Jesus was worthy, good and holy and he was not. Jesus ruled in this situation. He didn’t.

Jesus was surrounded by his disciples and others travelling to Jerusalem for the Passover. He humbled himself in front of everybody.

He came asking the right question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

As a religious person, he knew the answer to this in theory. He knew the law, that he should love the Lord with all his heart, soul strength and might. He knew he should keep the commandments. He also knew he was missing out on God’s purpose for his life. He hadn’t got life in all its fullness.

Eternal life is not length of life; it is the quality of life that belongs to God. The young man was saying, “I have the life that belongs to man but I want God’s life.”

If possessions, prestige and power were all there was to life, then he would die miserable.

The question “What shall I do to inherit eternal life,” shows us the man thinks eternal life can be earned and is the reward for doing good things. Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism all teach that eternal life is earned.

Eternal life is a gift too precious to be earned. It is the gift of God. It was purchased by Jesus on the cross. We cannot buy it with money.

We sometimes try to earn it by being good, doing more, learning, reading our Bibles and spending more time in prayer. Without the help and life of Jesus within us, we will not succeed.

Since Eternal Life Comes from Jesus, it is important that we know who Jesus is.

The young man called Jesus “Good Teacher.” Jesus reminded him there is no one good but God. Jesus was inviting him to think about whether he viewed him just as a great rabbi, prophet and teacher or whether he recognised he was from God.

Jesus is more than a great teacher. He is God in human form.

He didn’t just come to dispense eternal life. He is life in all its fullness. When we receive Jesus we gain eternal life. Without Jesus there is no eternal life.

Jesus looking at the young man loved him. He wanted to have a relationship with him.

Jesus is on the side of the rich as well as the poor. He looks deep into our hearts and loves us. He knows our pressures and responsibilities as well as our sin.

Jesus told the man to do three things, sell his possessions, give to the poor and follow him.

This was shocking for a Jew. Possessions were a sign of God’s favour.

Jesus was placing his finger on the root of the man’s problem. He loved his possessions more than he loved God. Jesus was saying that if you want me you can place nothing above me.

The 1<sup>st</sup> commandment, “You shall have no other Gods before me,”

still stands. If we want Jesus we have to die to our loves, goals, desires, and plans.

Jesus was telling this man to give up his possessions for his own benefit not because it would change the world. Sell all that you have and give to the poor is not God’s calling for all of us.

Money is not evil in itself. We need to look after our families, the poor and the vulnerable. If we gave all our money away, we would not be able to challenge evil, help people get out of debt and create a better society.

The young man was being asked to take an irreversible step of faith, to give what he had away to benefit the poor, like Jesus who became poor so that we might be rich.

The man trusted in the safety of his riches, and wanted to receive eternal life as an extra. You cannot serve two masters; you cannot serve God and money.

Jesus says follow me. You cannot trust in power, prestige, position and possessions and follow Jesus. Jesus must be Lord in our lives.

Only this brings us into the kingdom of heaven and gives us eternal life.

We cannot take our wealth, possessions, prestige, power or anything else into eternity with us but if Jesus is in our lives, and we have followed him we will have treasure in heaven.

The man did the sensible thing in the eyes of the world. He put his possessions, family, power, prestige, responsibilities, and parents before Jesus instead of being a fool for God and giving it all up to accept the invitation of Jesus to follow him.

He settled for life weighed down by many possessions and responsibilities. He missed a life spent ushering in a new way of living, the kingdom of God, a place of joy, righteousness and peace. He missed all that Jesus offered, all that he longed for in his heart.

What are we hanging on to which stops us following Jesus? What can be more important than the quality of life Jesus wants us to have?