Summary: The rich young man in this text could not be satisfied until he had it all. He realized that his accumulated "stuff" was not enough, and he wanted more...that is, until he realized that there was nothing he needed to do to get it.
When Ambition Meets Grace
How much are you willing to give up now, in order to have it all later? Before you answer the question, be sure you think about what had to endure to get what you have. This has been a lifelong journey over which good friendships and meaningful relationships have been sacrificed. Some moved across the country into unfamiliar and uncomfortable surroundings. Some folks shook their head in disbelief and disapproval. And you still don’t know what happened to the ones who promised to have your back. You put your name and reputation on the line and whatever progress you’ve made has come with great difficulty – and you’ve got the baggage and scars to prove it. But through it all you survived. You made it! Now: how much are you willing to give up?
This question confronts the young man in our text. Known around the way as “Richie Rich”, the only reason we know about him at all is because he’s looking for more. Perhaps he realizes that no matter what he has done, who he knows, where he has been, or how hard he has tried there comes a time when the trail of ambition dead-ends because of human limitation.
I dare not minimize the choice to be made, but I do suggest that the time will come when our best efforts fail. And when the time comes, God’s grace will breach the gap between human limits and God’s ability. Of this point in life, John Newton wrote, “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. ‘Twas grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”
Commonly defined as God’s unmerited favor, grace is the act of God giving us what we do not deserve. In Ephesians 2:8 Paul informs us that grace is a gift of God. And, in Romans 5:15 he tells us that grace is God’s free gift which cannot be earned, neither does it require repayment. Our text intersects the point where human ambition gives way to God’s grace. And here the question is raised: What happens when human ambition meets God’s grace?
I. When ambition meets grace we are reminded of what really matters. The young man in our text almost had it all. He kept the commandments, he kept up appearances, he kept striving for more, and he kept keeping on. But in all of his keeping, he realized that one prize kept eluding him, and that is where this young man’s despair began.
The young man pressed Jesus to tell him what to “do” to “have” eternal life, as if he could just try a little harder, increase his portfolio’s diversity, pay off the right people – or maybe he could pray more or harder, or get to church 5 minutes earlier. With human agency this young man attempted to possess eternal life and discovered what really matters: God gives eternal life and as such, eternal life must possess you. Eternal life must inform human activity.
Eternal life should drive us to empower the existence of others above and beyond our desire to accumulate “stuff”. In verse 21, Jesus makes the point: since you have everything you need down here, and since you say your concern is with the weightier matter of eternal life, sell what you have and give it to the poor. Since God freely provides access to the kingdom of God when we die, we ought to be about the business of establishing access to the kingdom of God while we live. That means we should give of our excess and of our “just enough”; we should bear one another’s burdens; speak life to one another. If we want God’s kingdom to come, then Mahatma Ghandi had it right, “we must be the change we want to see in this world.” Empower someone else, now!
What really matters is also seen in the way we embrace eternal rewards above temporary possessions. Jesus is clear in verses 21 and 22: if you adjust the way you think about what really matters, “you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.” In response the young man “went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” Jesus offered treasure in heaven and companionship on this side of heaven, but the young man was unwilling to let go of stuff that could be corrupted by moths and rust, and over which thieves could have full reign. He embraced the wrong thing, and for all we know his tombstone would read: Here lies one who walked away from Jesus. He was rich but his material possessions could not withstand the call of death.
On the question of giving up now or gaining later, I suggest you embrace your eternal reward. “Covet not this world’s vain riches that so rapidly decay. Seek to gain the heav’nly treasures, they will never pass away. When your journey is completed, if to God you have been true, fair and bright the home in glory your enraptured soul will view.”