I've read the story of the "rich young ruler" (Matthew 19, Mark 10, Luke 18) many times and heard just as many sermons, devotions, or bible studies on this story. But at 5:30 this morning when a certain 2 year old's need for water could not possibly wait for sunrise -this is where my brain went and my pondering of it.
Here's a quick summary for any who are unfamiliar with this passage. Jesus is walking through town doing His thing when this rich dude approaches and says, "Hey you seem like a great guy. How can I get in on this?" Jesus takes a quick second to reference His own deity in a wonderfully sarcastic way that must have been accompanied by a mischievous grin before taking the question adding a healthy dose of reality, giving it a good shake and then dumping it back on the guys head. "You know the law." In other words...based on all your knowledge of Scripture shouldn't you already be "in on this"? The guy still doesn't get it so Jesus gets to the point, "You are lacking one thing. Sell your stuff, all of it, and give the money to the poor then follow me."
He doesn't head to the market. He doesn't run to the local soup kitchen. He doesn't follow Jesus. He leaves. Sad but still rich.
At this point in the sermon most pastors will take great care to point out that obviously Jesus didn't really mean for the man to sell all his possessions and we can quickly and confidently dismiss any such racical application. And while I take great issue with this statement I will not -because it is not necessary for this particular post- even harp on it. Though I could. Seriously. Like a fat-bellied-bare-bottomed-flying-cherub kind of harping. But I won't.
So, the typical focus of teaching is on this rich guy's idolatry problem. He loved his stuff too much. He wanted his stuff too much. He idolized his stuff. At which point, we would be encouraged to consider the idols in our hearts and surrender them accordingly. Not a bad plan. Not bad teaching.
Problem is Jesus never addressed it this way. "One thing you still lack..." Jesus did not accuse the rich guy of loving his stuff too much. He accused him of loving others too little. This man essentially claimed to have kept all the commandments from his youth but he lacked the willingness to help the poor. He lacked the neighbor love and compassion that Jesus lived daily -healing the broken and dying, touching the sick and diseased, and restoring community to the outcast. He wasn't merely too focused on loving his possessions, he was not focused enough on loving others.
"If I can speak with the tongues of men and angels but have not love I am a resounding gong and clanging cymbal." (1 Cor 13:1) "There is still one thing you lack..."
Okay, okay but whether he was lacking love for His neighbor or idolizing himself --isn't it basically the same thing?
Well, yes and no. If I look at my neighbors through the filter of what they appear to idolize I am tempted to pat myself on the back and strut around in a self-righteous garb. But twisting it the way Jesus did finds me on much more common ground with them. For example, I could say that my friend who's shack up with her boyfriend and knows she needs to change it but doesn't loves and depends on the guy too much. I don't have that idol. We are different. I'm not like her.
But what if I see that my friend hasn't changed the situation because she lacks trust in God to handle the fallout; because she's afraid and lacks courage? The stone I held poised for attack suddenly crumbles to a grain of sand. I know what it means to lack trust. To lack courage. To be afraid despite God's best promises. We are same. I'm a lot like her.
See the difference?
So, thanks to an early wake-up call and a fresh look at a familiar story, I know it will still be important and necessary to clear out some idols but it will be equally important to search myself for those things that are lacking.