What Must I Do to Inherit Eternal Life

October 14, 2018


Here we have it again!  The story of Jesus’ conversation with the young, wealthy man.  It is one of those scriptures when taken seriously, that makes people nervous.

In just a few verses Jesus gives a command and makes declarations, that if we really believe what he is saying, and it is Jesus, so we must believe what he is saying, knocks away the foundation of Twenty-first century capitalism, and modern life.

I mean, let’s really ask the questions, how do we deal with Jesus’ command to the young man?

The man asked, “What must I do, to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus said, “You lack one thing; go sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Wow!  Okay, that would be life transforming.

Or, again, how do we deal with Jesus’ comment to the disciples, after the man, who cannot part with his possessions, leaves?

Jesus said to them, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

Again, wow!  I think, perhaps some of us are shocked along with the rich, young man and are ready to follow him as he walks away from Jesus.  We are living in the middle of the richest society, in one of the most wealthy periods in history, and we have to figure out how to listen to, and then understand Jesus’ commands and teachings concerning wealth.

So, how do we do this?

For starters, we have to truly listen to Jesus, and not simply try to explain away what he is saying, something that we do too often when it comes to what the Bible has to say concerning money, wealth, and how we deal with them.

Secondly, we need to not try and come up with an easy answer, so that we can then forget about whatever point Jesus is making.  Instead we need to live with, ponder upon, ruminate over, and wrestle with both Jesus’ command to the young man, and his comments to his disciples.  If we are going to follow Jesus, we need to keep his words in front of us.

As a bit of side note, we often spend a lot of time concentrating on, talking about, and condemning the sins that personally bother us, and very easily bypass the sins that might pertain to us, but can be inconvenient.  Jesus speaks about money, and the negative or sinful affects of money and wealth frequently, and very directly.  Yet, because it is not a subject we take kindly to, we often ignore him, or side-step his commands and teachings with simple comments like, “He didn’t really mean it that way.”

Or we create ‘wild’ interpretations of Jesus’ take on money and wealth, while at the same time saying in regards to other teachings, “We have to interpret his words literally.”

So, today, we have to talk about money and wealth, and we cannot skirt the issue.

Let us clearly agree, Jesus knew the negative and sinful affects of money and wealth upon the human psyche, human relationships, and so, the human community.  Jesus knew that money and wealth very rarely had, or has positive affects upon us humans.

He knew that dangerous hold it can have upon us humans, and he took that danger seriously.  The lust that arises too often within humans in regards to money and wealth makes it hard to have any other focus, any other commitments in one’s life.

For instance one of the ideas concerning why Jesus commands the man to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor, is because his desire and pursuit of money and wealth is a sickness, a cancer in his life.  And how do you deal with cancer, you cut it away, you excise it from your body.  So, the man’s spiritual, emotional sickness must be excised, be removed, and so Jesus’ command to get rid of his sickness, to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor and follow Jesus into a life of poverty and faithful living.

Another thought on Jesus’ command is that wealth can become a barrier between the wealthy and other people.  Life in God’s kingdom means relationships of love, and sharing with one another in the needs of life…even life’s hardships.  Wealth can be the great separator between people, and between classes of people. The relationships for love, that Jesus calls us to create are often never attempted, because the lines of status and class, created by wealth stand in the way.

This would then also help to explain Jesus’ comment to the disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

My former professor David Lose asks a very important question, for the young man and for us.  Does wealth provide, “the temptation to believe that one is made self-sufficient by one’s wealth with no need for God or others?  Is it that one is desensitized to the needs of others by wealth, insulated from the normal needs of those around us?  Can it be that wealth in some way distances us from one of the elements of being human itself – that is, the inescapable dimension of being dependent on others?”

And let me add the thought, that if wealth makes us independent from other people, does it not also make us independent of God?  If wealth provides for all of our earthly needs, that we assume that it also provides for our inner-spiritual needs as well?

Think back to the young man’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

It is the question of an independent self-assured man, with the two most important words being, “I” and “do.”

He does not need to depend upon anyone for anything, and those things that must be done he can accomplish through his wealth and determination.  Which is proven when Jesus answers his questions with a recitation of the laws pertaining to human relationship, that the man sincerely answers that he has fulfilled since his youth.  And because of Jesus’ reaction to the man’s sincerity, “Jesus…loved him.” We can take his words for the truth.  It is at that point then when we realize that despite his wealth, status and probable power the man knows an emptiness in his life.  He realizes that fulfillment of the Jewish law does not provide all, there must be something more…and Jesus can give it to him.

What is the man missing?  Jesus.  He needs to follow Jesus.  Yet, because of his other commitment, his wealth, he cannot follow.  And that  is where he misses out on the realizing the power of the most important word in his question, “inherit.”

Jesus wants to give him, as he gives the disciples and us, eternal life…it is our inheritance of faith.  We do not achieve salvation, we do not earn salvation, we do not buy salvation…we receive it.  As children of God, brothers and sisters with Jesus we inherit it from our Heavenly Father.

The young man would not allow himself to see, that there was nothing he could do to achieve eternal life.  If he had tried to follow Jesus along the way, to walk as his disciple, the cares and worries of his wealth would have constantly called him away, forced him to turn his focus, would have tempted him to try and solve the spiritual with the earthly.  The young man had learned that his wealth was his help in his time of need.

At the end of this scripture passage Jesus concludes with a variation of that often quoted, and often misunderstood line, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

This time, I think Jesus has someone very specific in mind when he utters these words, the young man who had just turned away grieving, was at the front of the world’s queue, he was one of the first, but had just proven where he would end up in line…last.

In conclusion, I have just a few questions for you and me to ponder upon, and to discuss in our prayers with God.

“What am I holding on to in my life that can cause me to turn from God?”

“Am I focusing too much on the words, “I” and “do” rather than on the words “inherit” and “receive?”

“Does our commitment to the earthly, meaning, money, wealth, possessions, jobs, status, power, entertainment, and more, take the place of our commitment to God, our faith in Jesus, and listening for the Holy Spirit’s guidance?”

“Are we seeking to follow Jesus each day?  Or, are we aimlessly wandering along behind?”


Bible References

  • Hebrews 4:12 - 16
  • Mark 10:17 - 31



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