Saddest Passage in the Bible

A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ ”And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Luke 18:18-23

Like many, I’m very familiar with this account. It’s not a parable by the way. My first question is why do they call him young if reading Luke’s account? The answer is in Matthew’s parallel recollection (Matthew 19:22).

He calls Jesus “good teacher” which seems benign and respectful to me, but the Lord takes exception. “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” This response seems crass, but allows the Master to tee up a truth worth noting. Jesus essentially infers using logic, if only God is good, do you therefore recognize me as God?

You might say this Jesus who had gladly received children earlier was not in a good mood on this occasion. Seriously, he knew exactly what was in the young ruler’s heart and it sobered him.

He then asks the man if he had kept the commandments and names five of them specifically. The ruler says yes. Had he really? We know from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that the Lord had expanded the scope of the commandments to include almost every angle. But Jesus acquiesced that the man did “technically” fulfill the law, but not before he instructed him to sell everything, distribute the proceeds to the poor, and follow him.

This was tantamount to saying leave your secret lover, or cease lucrative false business practices, or to a politician, quit lying. He had arrived at the crux of the matter and the rich young ruler hung his head in sadness and walked away.

In truth, God’s call always seems to be designed to verify sincerity. Matthew, James, John, Peter, Zacchaeus, and the rest overcame it. This man couldn’t or wouldn’t. To me, this is the saddest passage in all of the Bible. If he could have only seen that the riches of the kingdom are far greater than could be imagined, surely more than could ever be accumulated by inheritance or human effort.   

But I wish to think—hope—there is a joyous end to this story. There was still time for the ruler to ponder the incisive words of the one true God in the flesh. He hadn’t yet fully considered the full features and benefits of the “law of liberty.” (James 1:25) He was still young, you know, and the words of Jesus would, I suspect, eat at him over time. They would me.

About Rick Reynolds

You'll find me in the far right hand corner of evangelical Christianity. Been studying the Word for nearly 45 years and counting.
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