Summary: The young man raising this question with Jesus lacked historical memory, lacked self-awareness, and lacked a vision for one compelling pursuit. For Maundy Thursday
The third of our ultimate questions sounds almost like a throwaway. Like a sarcastic castoff. “What do I still lack?”
The young man had already asked the most sweeping question possible, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” As you may remember if you were here two Sundays ago, that question is laden with wrong assumptions, such as the assumption that he could just do something to gain this prize, such as the assumption that he could grasp and claim something like eternal life as his own, such as the pervasive self-centeredness of it ... I, I, I. That question was laden with wrong-headed assumptions, but, yet, it was pointed toward eternal life. It was pointed toward something ultimate. It was a sweeping and important question.
And, as we saw on this past Sunday, Jesus took it seriously but also treated it with suspicion. Jesus took it seriously, He proposed an answer to it. But He also treated it with suspicion. He tested the question for the argumentative spirit; He sniffed out what trap was hiding in it; and most of all He probed, with His own question, to make sure that the young man in front of Him was listening to his own heart, reading his own mind. Jesus wanted no hand-me-down opinions or second-hand theology. He wanted a personal and direct commitment to the truth. And so Jesus answered the question seriously, treating it with the right degree of suspicion, “Why do you ask me about what is good? If you wish to enter life, keep the commandments.”
Keep the commandments. So when the young man pressed Jesus further, “Which ones?”, the Lord provided the obvious answer, reciting many of the Ten Commandments and speaking of loving one’s neighbor. That brings us to tonight’s ultimate question, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus, you have told me nothing new, you have offered no fresh perspective, you have pointed me in no new direction. Keep the commandments? Been there, done that! Must be something else. “What do I still lack?”
For one thing, the young man still lacked memory. Historical memory. He lacked recall of what was behind the commandments the Lord had pointed out. If he had possessed the perspective of history, the history of his own people, he would have understood the answer.
“What must I do?” “Keep the commandments” “Which ones?” “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal.” These words were given to Moses after God had brought the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, out through the waters of the Red Sea, into the wilderness of Sinai. These words were given by God through Moses to a people described as stubborn, stiff-necked, hot-headed. A difficult, rebellious, cantankerous people. In other words, people like us. People like the very young man who now stood in front of Jesus.
And so if our young questioner had had in mind that history, the history of his people, he would have had in mind his own personal history. He would have recalled that it is unlikely, no, impossible, to keep the commandments. He would have understood that his feet had often strayed, his hands had often touched things which were not his, his heart had often flirted with lust and envy, covetousness and hatred. “Keep the commandments”. “I have kept all these.” I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
“What do I still lack?” Sir, you lack a sense of history, or you would have remembered to whom these commandments were given. Sir, you lack knowledge of yourself, or you would know that what you claim is too much, that you have not in fact kept them all. Sir, you lack memory of even your own life.
Sir, most of all what you lack is the knowledge that you cannot on your own and by yourself do what you think you want to do. You lack the awareness that a man named Paul would come to in only a few years, the memory that “Nothing good dwells in within me ... I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” What do we still lack? We lack the heartcry, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
Remember. Remember what we have never been able to do for ourselves.
“If you wish to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” “You shall not .. and also, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?”
This young man lacked not only a sense of history; he not only did not remember to whom the commandments were given and why. He also lacked self-awareness. He lacked a knowledge of his own heart. He lacked any real sense of his own motives. And he had not learned to watch where God was at work.