Jesus and the rich young man, part 1 — Matthew 19:16-22

The King’s instructions

Advent 2021

This part of Matthew’s Gospel is the last part of a teaching sandwich: Jesus accepted children who were brought to him, but this is between passages about Pharisees who had already rejected Jesus before they came to him and this passage about a rich young man. The three passages ought to be read together.

Money Rich Man
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16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honour your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Matthew 19:16–22

Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, traveling down the eastern side of the Jordan river because they have been getting opposition from the Jewish authorities. A young man approaches them.

Everything about this man is fine, he is affluent, Luke’s version of the story says that he is a ruler,so he has influence, he says that he has followed God’s law from when he was a boy, but he comes to Jesus because he feels he still lacks something. It is not Jesus saying that following the law and being wealthy is not enough, the rich young man has worked it out for himself. Frankie Bridge on I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here 2021 spoke of the show of the difficulties she and her husband Wayne have had in their relationship. Frankie is a TV presenter on Loose Women and was previously in the pop bands S Club 8 and The Saturdays, her husband is footballer Wayne Bridge, yet having money and a very comfortable house did not prevent her from having mental health problems.

So money can’t prevent you from having problems. In the case of this rich young ruler, his faith could not prevent his problems either. He asks, Jesus, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” He looks like a prime candidate, the sort of person we should be looking for to be a Christian with his wealth and influence. But Jesus does not explain the four spiritual laws* to him.

There is a desire amongst Christians to seek out people like the rich young man. Evangelical Anglican organisation, which set up summer camps for children from Public Schools is one of them. Personally, despite several Bishops including Justin Welby coming through Iwerne, I find this elitism disturbing as it goes against what I understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be.

Jesus’ answer to the rich young man, like that to the Pharisees in the first part of this teaching sandwich, is to the rich man alone. Not everyone is called to give up their money, but the rich man’s action, of walking away from Jesus shows where his heart is.

Jesus does not reject the rich man, Jesus never rejects anyone who comes to him (John 6:37). The rich man rejects Jesus. Like many who dismiss what Christians say when they are standing p for the poor and needy as ‘The Social Gospel’ as if salvation was the only thing taught by Jesus, thereby rejecting both the teaching of Jesus and Jesus himself.

I am not knocking the four spiritual laws. They were one of the things I heard in my journey to Christ, it was what I needed to hear at that time. It also speaks of the necessity of putting Jesus first in your life, so if the Four Spiritual laws had existed at that time the rich young man, I believe, would still have walked away sad. But it talks about Christianity as if atonement is the whole of the Gospel. Instead of this:

  • Incarnation: God became human and lived among us, God understands.
  • Atonement: Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. That is everybody.
  • Resurrection: We are raised together with Christ to live the life of the Kingdom of God. This includes the social stuff.
  • Ascension: Jesus is at the right hand of God praying for us. Jesus will return.
  • Pentecost: The Holy Spirit indwells those who Jesus has accepted.

If any of these is omitted it is not the whole Gospel.

*The four spiritual laws.

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