17 As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”
18 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 19 You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.” [Exodus 20:12-16; Deuteronomy 5:16-20]
20 “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22 But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.
A devout, apparently earnest young man asked Jesus what he needed to do to obtain eternal life. Jesus “looked at him carefully and loved him,” and identified the man’s fixation on wealth as his main spiritual obstacle. Unwilling and unable to reset his priorities, the man went away sad. It didn’t seem to take him long to decide that he didn’t want eternal life THAT much.
Consider. We own lots of possessions, but often the things that have value to us are valuable because of the memories associated with them. Consider the things that remind you of a person or an experience that points to a deeper connection beyond the physical item.
Lord Jesus, you offer me heaven’s riches. Give me a heart that can accurately assess the treasure of your kingdom, valuing it properly against any other claims. Amen.
As we consider today’s passage, I thought we might “visit” with noted historian, Dr. Ray Kives.
DL: Thanks for your time. So, tell us your background.
R. Kives: I’ve loved history since I was a kid. My wife says I’m a bit obsessed with my latest passion, The War Between the States. As she tells friends, “Sadly, I lost my husband in the Civil War.” My current manuscript is discussing the strategic implications of resistance vs. surrender.
DL: Could you explain this idea?
R.Kives: Well fortunately, I have some time. I was scheduled to debate the topic, “Never Surrender” at a retreat, but after multiple flight delays I had to give up.
R.Kives: Anyway let’s compare Natchez, Mississippi & Vicksburg Mississippi from the Civil War era. These cities are roughly 80 miles apart along the Mississippi River & essential to the Confederate’s survival. The Union wants to take control of the Mississippi River for logistical reasons & to split the South in half.
Natchez’s city leaders calculate the odds of success & reluctantly surrender.
Conversely, Vicksburg is defiant & builds up its defenses. General U.S. Grant lays siege to the town of Vicksburg. The city is under constant attack & pounded with over 22,000 shells fired from Union gunboats. The citizens of Vicksburg retreat to caves & dugouts. After 47 days, Vicksburg finally surrenders on July 4, 1863. The city is in ruins & would take decades to recover.
What if Vicksburg, instead of waiting until the moment when all hope was lost, had chosen to surrender earlier in the conflict? How many of its citizens’ lives would have been saved & could the community have been able to remain viable? The military culture understandably encourages the “fight to the end” mantra, but sometimes surrender might be the wiser alternative.
DL: Interesting. The theologian, Dallas Willard, on the cover of his book, Renovation of the Heart, depicted a white flag, which suggests that for one’s heart to become in sync with God, one has to eventually cede control or surrender one’s life to Christ.
This same idea is demonstrated in today’s passage of the Young Man & Jesus. The Young Man says he is a believer in God & a follower of the main commandments. Jesus loves this Young Man & to encourage his faith walk challenges him to give all his wealth to the poor. The Young Man is devastated by the choice & walks away in grief.
Jesus saw the Young Man’s heart & realized what was holding him back from a fully transformed life with God – his wealth. What might Jesus see in us that is diverting our own faith journey? Perhaps Jesus would tell us to reduce our obligations/activities, so we’ll worship/pray/commune with Him more frequently. Maybe Jesus would tell us to quit judging others, so we would value the dignity & worth of all God’s children.
Perhaps Jesus would tell us to forgive our most despised enemy, so we’ll be able to finally immerse ourselves in the warmth of God’s forgiveness.
What if we decided that today is the day we chose to quit skirmishing/struggling with God & just surrendered ourselves to Christ? Maybe this could be the start of our own transformation where we could begin to experience a life permeated with love, a life of soulful peace, a life of hope in the midst of all circumstances.
Well, thanks for your time & good luck with your book. What is the title?
R.Kives: “Cede to Succeed – How Surrendering Today Can Lead to Greater Growth Tomorrow.” After the 10th publisher rejected me, my wife said I should let it go. But I told her, “I’m no quitter.”
Side Note: A shout-out to the organizers & participants of the inspiring/informative 2030 Forum on Closing the Opportunity Gap. I never realized that speaking Mandarin to infants, for example, could stimulate their intellectual development. To make up for lost time with our high school sons, this morning I wrote “Hi” in Mandarin. (They were so stimulated they got ready for school & left in record time.)
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