Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said to him, One thing you lack: go your way, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor…
This incident occurred on a journey to Jerusalem, which our Lord undertook between the Feast of Dedication, at which the Jews sought to stone him, and the Passover, during which he was crucified. Hostility, therefore, was both before him and behind him, but his serenity was not ruffled, nor his willingness to bless impaired. There was never in him a sign of the indiscriminate judgment which leads us to condemn a whole nation or sect as being outside the bounds of Christian charity. He was, and still is, gracious to one seeker, even though he dwells among the heathen; and hears any prayer, though it rises from a godless home. We notice here also our Lord's freedom from the pandering to popular passion, which has often been the snare of statecraft, and sometimes of the Christian Church. We naturally bend before an adverse current of opinion, and count it good policy to withhold the advocacy of our opinions for a season. But here was a crisis in Christ's ministry which would lead to his reception or rejection, when the decision of each one would make a weight in the scale of popular judgment. Judicious hedging just then might avert hatred or win a convert. Here was a ruler of the synagogue - a man of wealth, position, and good repute - who was willing to become a disciple; but he was met with words of discouragement, and the great Teacher put his claims before him in the strongest form. The fact is, that he thought more of the suppliant than of himself. He would rather bring him to deep repentance than have his showy following. With all his estimable qualities, the young ruler had spiritual deficiencies, which were seen by the Searcher of hearts, and revealed to himself by the test applied to him. What were these?
I. HE WAS MISTAKEN AS TO THE NATURE OF "GOODNESS." "Good Master, what good thing shall I do?" asked he. Christ at once put him in the way of discovering his mistake by answering, "Why callest thou me good?" etc. He did not decline the appellation, but repelled it when used in this superficial sense. He wanted him to weigh his words, to know what they implied, to say exactly what he meant; and this he requires of us. He reminded him that God was the Source of all goodness, because he would not have him regard any good act or good person as isolated or independent, but in connection with the God of goodness. He was himself "good;" but why? Because he was one with God. The young man might do a "good thing; "but how? Not as an isolated acts but by loving God supremely, and living in him. He enumerated the commandments as declarations of the will and character of the good One, which could only be obeyed in fullness When supreme love to God was the master passion of the soul; the duties to his fellows being mentioned because these constituted the easiest test of obedience.
III. HIS GREAT DEFICIENCY WAS AN ABSENCE OF COMPLETE SELF-SURRENDER. When told to sell all that he had, this was not the special "good thing" which would gain eternal life; but the command was given because the attempt to obey it would reveal the fact that he did not love the Lord with all his heart and soul and strength. This is the one important thing so often lacking, short of which so many halt, but which is essential to the righting of life. If we set clown a series of noughts we may say they only want one figure to make them millions; but that one figure is all-important. So is it with "the one thing" lacking to many a moral life, namely, the consecration to God, of which prayer is the natural expression.
III. HE BROKE DOWN UNDER THE TEST APPLIED. The command, "Sell whatsoever thou hast," was to be obeyed literally by him, but not by all. Christ came in contact with other rich men, and did not call upon them to do this. But it was the best thing to teach this man the special lesson he needed. The test our Lord applies to those who come to him varies greatly, but in some form it comes to all such. It may appear to be so trifling a thing as the giving up of an amusement or pursuit, or so peculiar a thing that no one has previously been asked to do it. But it is the test of character to that one, and the trifle is fraught with future destiny. That which is not a source of peril to some may be disastrous to others. A blessing in some circumstances may prove a curse in others. The lighted candle, which is useful in the home, may be a destroyer in a mine. Anything which seems a source of danger must be abjured for Christ's sake. The young ruler did not make the required sacrifice when it was called for. He went away sad; and if he went away for ever, it was to far deeper sadness, for he left the Savior of the world - the King of heaven. Dante says that in his journey through hell he saw him "who with ignoble spirit made the great refusal." But was the refusal final? We hesitate to believe it. We hope that this inquirer, who was so sincere, earnest, and humble, only went away to consider the question, not in the excitement of the moment, but alone, on his knees, and that then and there he gave himself up, to be Christ's consecrated servant for evermore. - A.R.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
WEB: Jesus looking at him loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross."