Luke 18:18-30 feels like a roller coaster ride. Here’s the rich man who is doing a whole lot of things right. He leans into Jesus asking, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replies to the man on three levels:
1. By saying that “God alone is good”, Jesus enlarges the man’s vision and imparts the truth that asking how a man can get into heaven is less important than being in relationship with the One who made heaven.
2. Deeper still, Jesus knows the man’s heart and affection for his wealth. Jesus instructs him on the “one thing” that is still needed. “Sell everything, give it to the poor, then follow me.” Jesus was calling the man into a deeper life, a more wonderful existence, reliant upon the Living God.
3. The man leaves Jesus in tears knowing he was not going to choose this. Now the disciples are asking Jesus, “How can anyone who has it all enter into the kingdom of God?” Like a loving parent, Jesus replies, “No chance at all, if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.” (The Message Bible)
This is what blows me away. Jesus even gives me the choice to choose badly. If I want to, I can major in the minors. I can be “careful for everything” instead of being “careful for nothing”. (Philippians 4:6-8) I can choose to be selfish and to use my life poorly. Do you think the rich man in this parable ever stopped having a cry in his heart? It’s a tragedy of gigantic proportions, to be called by the Living God into a deeper life, and to say “No, thank you”.
What are the consequences of choosing badly? I am haunted by Psalm 106:15 where the Israelites begged God for meat, I believe, instead of the daily manna. God’s response? “And he gave them their request: but sent leanness into their soul.”
I know what it is to live large in God. I know what it is to trust Him and to see miracles happen. I also know what it is to live for self, being careful for everything and counting the costs. For the rich man, I don’t believe salvation was denied him. Instead, I believe the man was destined to live out his days in that oh-so-miserable spot on the fence. Knowing the vibrant life that’s just over the fence, but never choosing to make the leap.
Lord, give us courage to make the better choice, in Your strength when we cannot.