Matthew 19:16-26
Follow Me!

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. Today's passage of scripture starts out with a question that a man pitches to Jesus. This is what he asked Jesus: "Master, what good thing should I do to obtain eternal life?," (Matthew 19:16).

What Good Thing Does One Do?

2. He is "a youth" (verse twenty). The text says, "He had a great deal of wealth," (verse twenty-two). According to The Gospel According To Luke, he was "a member of the Sanhedron," (Luke 18:18). It looks like he had a seat on the supreme court [of his country]. He could declare without a doubt that as a Jew he "had kept all" of the law of Moses (19:20). In The Gospel According To Luke, the text says, "he had kept from childhood everything that [the Law] says," (Luke 18:21). We are told that he was raised in a solid traditional Jewish home, and while under his devout parents, he had received a good home upbringing since infancy.

3. So, he already possessed so much of what some people never stop seeking for. He had his youth. He had his money. He also had position and fame. He was even blessed with a good home environment. [We'd] call a man like him blessed. As a matter of fact, he must have been totally blessed. But, there was still one thing he was always looking for. He recognized that he has yet to attain one very utterly important thing. Because of that, he had come to inquire of Jesus, and so he asked him, "Master, what good thing should I do to obtain eternal life?"

4. "The eternal life" being sought after here in this passage does not mean some deathless fountain of youth. Whenever a Jew spoke of "obtaining eternal life," you could change the words to "entering the kingdom of God." In other words, it means that his life will in the end be considered worthy by God, that he will be justified by God, that he will be accepted by God. What was ultimately important to him was not whether his life was worth something "in the eyes of humans." That's not what [mattered to him at all], but what was most important to him was whether he would be worthy "in the eyes of God." But, he had no confidence or conviction that he was. Would he truly be worthy before God? Would he be righteous? Of this he had no confidence. He had no confidence of being allowed into the kingdom of God or of being able to obtain eternal life.

5. For that reason, his soul could not rest from wanting an answer to that compelling question of his. Then, there appeared the figure called Jesus of Nazareth right there in front of him [with this burning question on his heart]. "This [holy] man must surely have the answer." -- Just like that, his heart gripped him and wouldn't let go. So, at last, with unbending determination, he inquired of Jesus. Many of the leaders had begun to oppose Jesus. But, he mustered up his courage and came to [Jesus] to ask him one thing. He asked, "Master, what good thing should I do to obtain eternal life?"

6. It's surprising but, the statement that came back from the mouth of Jesus was nothing special. "If you want to obtain life, keep the commandments," (verse seventeen). This is a statement that most anybody would make if he or she were a teacher of the most basic of Judaism. But, he doesn't give up with that. He holds on, asking, "Which commandments are they?" The answer couldn't be that common place simple. He must mean some special commandment. [I think] that's how he was thinking. But, to his great disappointment, the next statement was altogether very common place. When you say, "commandments", the next thing to come into one's mind would be the ten commandments of Moses. The Lord only offers examples from some of the ten commandments out of the words from Leviticus. "You will not murder. You will not commit adultery. You will not steal. You will not bear false testimony. Respect your parents and love your neighbor as yourself." But, one way or the other, this guy was wanting to pull out of Jesus' mouth the true answer. He said, "I've kept all of what you've said. What else am I missing?"

7. I don't think this young man was bragging about himself when he made that statement. At the least, he sensed in himself that he was missing something. On that point this young man was different from the other Pharisee types who were proud of their observance of the law and who justified themselves by it. It seems that the Lord was pleased with his attitude on that [level]. In Mark's Gospel, it says, "Jesus looked at him and spoke with pity on him," (Mark 10:21). Finally, the Lord made clear the answer to his request, the one thing that he was most definitely missing. But, it was an astounding statement. The Lord said, "If you want to be perfect, go and sell off your possessions, and donate it to the poor. By doing that you will accumulate treasures in heaven. Then after that, follow me," (verse twenty-one). This statement from the Lord really packed a punch for this young man. Then, the youth had no more questions after that, he set off sadly.

He Was Missing Christ

8. Well, we can hardly keep back our surprise at these words from Jesus. They seem so very extreme. But, exactly since they are the way they are, we had better give them a careful listening. Jesus demanded him to sell off his possessions and give it as alms to the poor. But, he never said, "In addition to keeping the ten commandments, also sell off your stuff and give it away to the poor. By doing that you will be able to obtain eternal life." He only said, "By doing that you will accumulate treasures in heaven." What the Lord ultimately required of him was not to "donate it all away." Look closely. The Lord said to him, "Follow me." Just as the Lord called the disciples, he was calling this man to follow him. In other words, what he was missing was not at all the doing of one "good thing." That's not what he was missing, rather it was [the Lord] himself. What he was missing was Christ. He needed to figure that out.

9. What all this means to say is that his very question from the beginning was wrong. Look again at his first words. He inquired of the Lord with "Master, what good thing should I do to obtain eternal life?" Jesus gave him the following answer at that time, "Why are you asking me concerning Goodness? There is only one Good One." Do you see it? This young man and Jesus are both looking at two completely different directions. The youth is only focusing his eyes on the direction of his deeds, and he is only thinking about whether or not those good deeds are enough to be justified by God. So then, while he is thinking only of human deeds like that, he is way off from focusing his interest on "the Goodness" who is none other than "The Good One."

10. What this young man needed to obtain eternal life was not some "good" that he should be doing. What he needed was not "good" [deeds], but "The Good One." Christ the Savior was right there in front of his eyes, whom the Good One sent with his good will. This One indeed is that which he needed most of all. -- Because humanity is so very much far from eternal life and far from the kingdom of God. Because humanity is to that extent taken deep in sin. Humanity will not be justified by God at all ever by adding another good deed or two or by making constant and continual upgrades to one's person. Therefore, he is not told that what he needs is to "Do more good [deeds]." He is told by the savior to "Follow me."

11. Well, why did Jesus tell him to "Go and sell off your possessions and donate it to the poor?" This message could not possibly be applied to everybody. As a matter of fact, the Lord did not demand the same thing from others. The reason Jesus demanded the youth to dispose of and donate his fortune was that this message was needed "by the youth." In other words, it was because the Lord knew that his fortunes were the very thing hindering the young man from following Christ.

12. But, when you think about it, what hinders a person from believing and following Christ is not fortune alone, [even when] in the form of cash. Just about anything related to human existence will work as a similar hindrance [to believing and following Christ]. For some people, different sorts of relationships involving themselves may be far more important to them than money. Relationships with family and friends, this in and of itself, may very well be the good thing. They are a person's assets [too]. But, they can be blocks to believing in and following after Christ. So we see then, even if what the young man was told doesn't apply in a completely literal sense to everybody, it does more or less have something to do with each of us because there is [a strong] possibility that we must let go of something that is a hindrance to us when we are thinking of following Christ.

13. Well, the disciples saw the whole story down to the last details. The young man, seemingly a youth loyal to the law and very conscientious about it and worthy to obtain eternal life, ended up departing sorrowfully. After that, the Lord said, "It is still easier for a camel to pass through the hole in a needle than for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God," (verse twenty-four). The disciples were surprised and muttered, "If that's so, who will be saved?" Whereupon, the Lord looked at them and said, "That may be impossible for humans, but God can do anything."

14. When we look at their conversation, it seems that somehow even the disciples' hearts had been taken deep by humanity's deeds and conditions. The disciples also had to be directed to him who is "Good" and able to save humanity. Also, the disciples would soon see with their own eyes the miracles of "The Good One," and it would clearly be revealed to them that "With God anything is possible." God can do anything. -- It's true. In order to redeem our sins and to save us, God is even the One who can raise Christ from the dead on the third day after he [was] killed on the cross. Our hearts also must be directed passed "good [deeds]" and upon "The Good One." The savior, whom this "Good One" sent, is calling us right now. He says, "Follow me."

 
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