"What must I do to inherit eternal life?"
In this passage Jesus encounters a “rich young man” who asks this question. Like many of us, the man is looking to check a box and earn his way to the “good life”; instead, Jesus sees him, and speaking the truth in love, challenges his heart.
Jesus responds to the man’s question with a select list of commandments, and the man replies: “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth” (v20). You may recognize the commandments Jesus rattles off in that initial response as the second half of the ten commandments, or the ones dealing with how we ought to interact with others. However, what’s not included in this initial list is the first half of the ten commandments—the ones that point us to how we ought to act towards God Himself, including: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). Those first four commandments are crucial as they remind us that God alone is worthy of our praise, reverence, and rest. Without God at the center, the rest of the commandments fall flat—they merely become a checklist. So, when Jesus responds to the man saying, “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…” (v21), He’s calling him out. In His all-knowing nature, Jesus is asking: but what about the first four commandments? Are you willing to trust me? Or are you bowing down to other idols—to wealth, to comfort, to security?
Mercifully, Jesus doesn’t end there. The passage reads: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” He knows this man and He cuts to the idol at his heart, but He also offers an invitation: “come, follow me” (v21).
Following Jesus means entering into His upside-down Kingdom, a kingdom that belongs to children (v14), where the last are first and the first are last (v31), where the wealthy and privileged are the least likely to enter in (v25), and where, by God’s grace, the impossible is made possible (v27). Still, like the rich young man, I find myself distracted by other idols, losing sight of the gospel of grace, and looking to my own self-sufficiency, saying “I’ve kept all of these commands.” This passage reminds me that, in these moments: Jesus sees me, He loves me, and He pierces through my self-righteousness to the idols of my heart, asking me to let go and follow Him.
Instead of being disheartened by the gospel’s challenging call, we can embrace Jesus’ call to “follow me” with the hopeful knowledge that this is not something we enter into alone. Jesus walked this path ahead of us. Like His call to the rich young man, Jesus Himself gave up all that He had, trading His Heavenly Kingdom to take on flesh. Praise God!
In this season of Lent, may our practices of self-denial and giving up be daily reminders to let go of our idols and respond with a joyful “Yes” to Jesus’ call. Because, unlike the rich young man, we know the end of the story. We know the resurrection is coming, and Jesus is inviting us into His Kingdom, whispering: “Come, follow me.”
Mary Grace Short lives in Mt. Pleasant, works for Studio Theatre, and finds joy in friends, family, and the Blue Ridge Mountains.