A few weeks ago, we asked what burdens the Church needed to let go of to make room for the Kingdom of God. In the story of the rich ruler, with Holy Week just around the corner, the question becomes much more personal. What is holding you back from inheriting eternal life?
The story of the rich ruler is often simplified into a fable about money. We get so caught up in Jesus’ command to sell everything (and our own anxiety about that commandment) that we lose sight of the bigger picture.
Money, more often than not, is a symbol. It stands for something else. In the case of the rich ruler, and in my own experience as well, money stands in for self-reliance. What holds the rich ruler and me back from inheriting the fullness of eternal life here and now is my pride – my certainty that I can handle things on my own.
Note the interaction between Jesus and the man. After asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to follow the commandments. “Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, honor your father and mother.” These are, if you had to categorize them this way, the easiest of the commandments to follow. They are the obvious ones, the ones that mostly exist outside of your body. It is the others that come earlier on the list, specifically, the “don’t put other gods before God” one, that are much harder to live by.
In his reply, “I have kept all these since my youth,” the ruler betrays his failure to follow the one that matters most. He has made himself to be god. It is by his own doing that he believes he will inherit eternal life. Even his initial question shows us his sin, “What must I do?” The same is true in my life. When I start to get puffed up, thinking that it is somehow by my own strength that I can navigate life and bring about the Kingdom, that I lose sight of God’s will. It is when I rely on my own ability to do things, that I find myself falling short of inheriting eternal life.
The rich ruler ended up sad and walking away from God’s gift of eternal life in Jesus because he knew that he could never give it all away. He missed the point that to hand it all over can only happen when we realize that God is God and we are not. Each morning, I try to make the choice to follow God, remembering that it isn’t by my own merits that I do it, but only by the grace of the God who calls me.