TODAY’S LECTIONARY READING
Wednesday, October 28, 2020:
Psalm 119:41-48; Deuteronomy 26:16-27:7 ; Matthew 19:16-22; Proverbs 16:1-20
Today’s lectionary reading centers upon the message of God’s commands. The gospel reading has an event when the subject of God’s commands were discussed. Below is that passage and a commentary from one of today’s popular writers and Bible scholar’s N.T. Wright (or sometimes is referred to as Tom Wright).
N.T. Wright has many Bible Studies that pastors and laity use for their own studies and personal growth. The writings below come from the commentary - The New Testament For Everyone.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy his insights as I have across the years.
Matthew 19:16-22 The Rich Young Man
16 "Suddenly a man came up to Jesus. ‘Teacher, ‘ he asked, ‘what good thing must I do if I'm to possess the life of the age to come?’
17 ’Why come to me with questions about what's good?’ retorted Jesus. ‘There is one who is good! If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments. ‘
18 ’Which ones?’ he asked.
‘These ones, ‘ Jesus answered: ‘“don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't tell lies under oath, 19 respect your father and mother,” and “love your neighbor as yourself”. ‘
20 ’I've kept the lot, ‘ said the young man. ‘What am I still short of?’
21 ’If you want to complete the set, ‘ Jesus replied, ‘go and sell everything you own and give it to the poor. That way you'll have treasure in heaven! Then come and follow me. ‘
22 When the young man heard him say that, he went away very sad. He had many possessions."
I have heard it said that if you want to catch a monkey, there is a particular method which works well. You need a jar which the monkey can just get his paw into when his fingers are open. Then you put something into the jar which the monkey wants - some fruit, say. Then you put the jar temptingly where the monkey is likely to find it.
The monkey will reach his hand into the jar to get the fruit. He will close his fist around it. But of course, when he closes his fist, especially if it's got something inside it, he can't get it out of the jar. He won't want to let the fruit go, but unless he does he won't be able to get his hand out.
The story has an obvious meaning when we put it alongside Jesus’ meeting with this eager young man. He had great possessions. He was probably well known; there weren't very many rich people in Jesus’ world, and such as there were would be local figures of note. Lots of less rich people would be doing their best to make friends with him, or work for him, hoping that some of his wealth might find its way towards them. (That, incidentally, is only one of the ways in which wealth corrupts human relationships.) But he was like the monkey with his hand in the jar. He had a tight grip on his possessions, and unless he was prepared to loosen his grip and leave them behind he couldn't become free. He wouldn't be free to join the kingdom-movement, the march into God's future, that Jesus was leading.
He wasn't simply asking about how to go to heaven after he died. As we've seen often enough, the phrase ‘ kingdom of heaven ’ doesn't mean that. It means God's sovereign, saving rule coming to transform everything, coming to bring the whole creation into a new state of being, a new life, in which evil, decay and death itself will be done away. Many, perhaps most, Jews of Jesus’ day believed that Israel's God would do this, and would do it very soon. The question they were asking, in several different ways, was: who would benefit from it when it happened? Who would ‘inherit the age to come ’? Who would gain ‘the life of the new age’, or, as in many translations, ‘ eternal life ’?
The standard Jewish answer to this question would be something to do with keeping the Jewish laws - the commandments that God gave to Moses. Most serious-minded Jews of Jesus’ day had their own opinions about what these laws demanded. Everyone knew the basic list, the Ten Commandments; the point was then to find out what exactly they meant in practice. Different groups had their different agendas. The Pharisees had some very detailed regulations; the Essenes had a different set; and so on.
Jesus was not offering simply another set of legal interpretations of that sort. His challenge was at a different level. He was content, in terms of behavior, simply to repeat the basic commandments (though it's interesting that he doesn't mention the first four, about putting God first, getting rid of idols, not taking God's name in vain, and keeping the sabbath ). He knows that the young man knows these, and the young man knows that he knows; both of them understand that the conversation must move to different ground, to the point where the real questions begin.
This is where Jesus’ approach is different in kind from those of other Jewish groups. Instead of more complex legal instructions, he has the simplest of commands: sell up, give it away and follow me. There is something ironic about the way he says it here: ‘If you want to complete the set ... ‘. In Matthew, being ‘complete’ - the same word can mean ‘perfect’, actually! - is the challenge of the Sermon on the Mount ( 5:48). It's a way of saying, ‘God wants his people to be complete, totally dedicated to his service, not half-and-half people, with one foot in the kingdom and the other in the world. ‘ The young man seems to want almost to collect commandments he's kept, like one might collect coins or butterflies or antique furniture. All right, says Jesus, this is the one that will complete your collection: give everything away! In order to be complete, you must be empty. In order to have everything, you must have nothing. In order to be fully signed up to God's service, you must be signed off from everything else.
As with the previous comments about celibacy, this commandment was not given to everybody. Jesus doesn't often seem to have told people to give away everything and follow him. When he did, it was either because, as in the case of the Twelve , he wanted them to be free so that they could be with him all the time and share his work; or because, as with this young man, he sensed that his possessions had become his idol, his alternative god, the demon that would eventually kill him unless he renounced it.
We all have something like that in our lives. It may well not be material possessions: in our world, as in that of Jesus, not many people are very rich (even if most of them are concentrated in certain places). It is up to each of us to examine our own hearts and lives to see what is holding us back from serving God with the ‘completeness’ which Jesus longs for.