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What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. (Mk. 10:17-30)

Today's story of the rich man appears in the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Luke, and Mark. I encourage you to compare all three narratives in your spare time. For my reflection today, two images captured my spirit in Mark's gospel, "a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him..." and "Jesus, looking at him, loved him..."

The scriptures fail to clarify why this man needed to run up to Jesus. One could speculate that the rich man was in the crowd when Jesus spoke about one's behavior when entering the Kingdom of God. Or perhaps, Jesus inspired this individual as He talked to the children, embracing and blessing them. Seeing this image could inspire many of us. We, too, could run up to Jesus, kneel, and ask Jesus what we must do to inherit eternal life.

There is certainly nothing wrong with someone running and kneeling before Jesus, wanting answers to his questions. The challenge I see for us is that we sometimes are reactionary. We see something and want to have it as well. I wonder if the rich man understood what he was saying when he asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Was he reacting to a desire for an object or wanting to be with God forever? Perhaps, he felt that he could purchase eternal life, like another item in his trophy case. He certainly may have thought he could close the deal when he testified that he observed all the commandments.

The last image of Jesus, looking and loving him, is a powerful interaction that we must study. First, I wonder why the rich man was so quick at saying that he knew all the commandments. If he knew all the commandments, why did he avoid asking Jesus about the first four commandments, have no other gods, no graven images, take the Lord's name in vain, and keep the Sabbath Holy? Did he consciously think that he could cover his iniquities?

Here we see a compassionate Jesus rarely seen. Jesus, knowing that the rich man was about to miss his opportunity, loves this man so much that he gives this man one more chance to make it right. There is no monetary offering large enough to inherit eternal life. The rich man must not continue to make wealth and possessions his God.

For this reason, we must avoid being reactionary Christians. We must know by faith we can walk humbly before the Lord and receive eternal life. Our wealth should never hinder our relationship with God. We can put God first and control those personal urges for possessions; this was the rich man's failure. The scripture teaches, "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God."

Author: Evangelist Michael Howard, MACS

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