In Luke 18, a rich man comes to Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus response is fascinating. He lists off five of the ten commandments (Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother) while leaving off the commandments about coveting and honoring God. The rich man claims to have kept the five Jesus mentions. Jesus doesn't challenge his claim, but says that the rich man still lacks one thing and that he must sell all his possessions and follow him. 

So what is the one thing he lacks? Earlier in Luke 10, Jesus says the way to eternal life is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."  The rich man has possessions, power and respect. He is moral and he appears to be blessed by God, but Jesus directs him to his heart. He still lacks one thing: God. Jesus' request for him to give all he owns to the poor reveals an inability to love his neighbor which reflects a heart that is unwilling to love God.

It would be easy to misinterpret Jesus' response to the rich man as a test and subsequent disappointment that he failed the test because he wasn't righteous or generous enough. As though Jesus measured him up and found him lacking. But Jesus sadness was less about what the rich man wouldn't do, it was about who he didn't know. His unwillingness to surrender his material wealth revealed that he knew the law but not the giver of the law. Jesus desperately wanted this man to know and give his heart to his Heavenly Father. To recognize the true riches offered to him in Christ. But his heart was given over to the security and comfort found in his wealth. Sadly, he failed to see that without Christ he was in desperately impoverished.

Salvation is a lavish gift of grace that requires us to acknowledge just how poor and helpless we are apart from Christ.  Only when we see ourselves as poor will we be free to follow him and love the poor among us.

David Cumbie

Comment