Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

A Demanding Call

This week, my studies have been in and around Matthew 19. This is a captivating chapter of Matthew’s gospel. In fact, I have spent many hours reflecting on this chapter. One of the most baffling sections begins in verse 16. Jesus has been teaching about the Kingdom and in the previous verses has highlighted the necessity of childlike faith. Certainly we understand the dynamic of fully trusting God for all our needs. Matthew quickly transitions from the blessing of the children to this story.

(Matthew 19:16 NIV) Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Maybe you have read the account. To sum it up, a wealthy young man approaches Jesus inquiring about entrance into the Kingdom. By the way, kingdom entrance and eternal life are used interchangeably throughout this gospel. The short of it is that the man wants what Jesus has been proclaiming, kingdom life or eternal zoe life. Presumably, his resources have made it possible for him to get what he wants. Now he wants eternal life, so he goes to the one who seems to be an authority on the topic.

Jesus challenges the man’s question.

(Matthew 19:17 NIV) “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

In this reply Jesus objects to the man’s assumption that he can do a good thing to get eternal life. The rest of the story involves a bit of back and forth about keeping the commandments. The man declares his compliance with the Law but wonders if there is more.

(Matthew 19:20 NIV) “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus then drops a bombshell. I doubt the young man saw this one coming.

(Matthew 19:21 NIV) Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The word perfect stands in contrast to word (in verse 20) lack. To be perfect means to be complete. Notice that Jesus doesn’t mention eternal life (what the man was seeking). Jesus instead reveals that zoe life only comes through connection with God, with complete spiritual connection with the God who created us. And the young man is standing unbeknownst in front of God in the flesh. He has an incredible opportunity to rid his life of distraction and follow Jesus. As we read the rest of this passage, the man refuses Jesus’ invitation because it would cost him too much. His great wealth stood in the way of finding true life.

This is a sad story. In fact some suggest that this is the only record (in the Bible) of someone refusing a personal invitation to follow Jesus. We could go on to talk about the lesson that Jesus teaches his disciples about the danger of great wealth. But in keeping this blog post a reasonable length, allow me to reflect on this story in terms of discerning the movement of God.

Does Jesus require everyone to sell their possessions? Must we rid ourselves of earthly wealth to find true life? Most of us would not think this the case. Yet the takeaway from this encounter is that Jesus does know what we need to find true life. And Jesus still speaks challenging words into our hearts today. As we discern God’s movement in our churches and in our lives, may we be open to the sometimes demanding call of Jesus in our lives. May we be willing to follow Jesus even when it is hard.