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The highest commandment

October 23, 2011

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

 

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

 

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

 

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

 

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

Mark 10:17-27 (NIV)

We could compare our life to a journey, in which we drive a vehicle along the path of our life. During this trip we will transport many loads. The loads can vary from goods, some of which may be necessary, to some loads that could endanger the vehicle and even the journey itself. Goods, in this context, are things that we acquire in this life, like possessions or wealth, but they may also be occupations or work that we will have in our lives, or they may also be our interests or hobbies, those things we do in our leisure time and for entertainment.

One of the goods we transport is wealth. Throughout the Bible, we can read tips related to wealth. And today, we have advice from the mouth of Jesus, with a particular, real and concrete example. As we said, goods can also be other things in life, such as our relationships with people, work and sports, all of these are loads that may or may not constitute risks to our soul, as all of these things can create a dependency in our hearts that becomes more important than God. “There where your heart is, there will be your god,” said Martin Luther. We are permitted to rejoice in all things in life, but we must be careful not to move away from Christ. This would be the worst that could happen to us. Learn from this verse today and take precautions with the loads that could endanger the journey, which can cause accidents to the soul. We do not want to have an accident on the road of life with the dangerous cargo that we carry.

The man who comes to Jesus demonstrates a great respect and interest in him. He came to Jesus by choice, without obligation, without coercion, without manipulation. I wonder what it would be like if people would be like that and come like that to our services and be interested in reading the Bible! He knelt before Jesus. This is a sign of respect and honor to God. The man exemplified model behavior. Then he asks that question, “Good teacher,” “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” A person, who truly asks a question like that, is not far from the kingdom of God. How few people today are interested in eternal life! They see it as unimportant, as if they were words spoken in another language or the decisions of the Senate. These people should take this man as an example.

When the man came to Jesus, Jesus gave an answer that was different from other cases where people of the Gospel came to Jesus and began to believe in him. In this case, it is likely that the rich man approached Jesus carrying a weight within him. He felt insecure and wanted to get a corroboration of that insecurity felt within the soul. And Jesus looked at the heart of this man and he saw it. Jesus saw inside his heart, that this man was not willing to believe, beyond the manners and behavior of an “almost exemplary believer.” Jesus said, without mincing words, that the man already knew and had come to listen. The man was very polite with Jesus, but had self-deception in his heart. Jesus was also very polite to him, despite the misleading question, but answered with a straightforward truth. We may be struck by Jesus’ harshness. This man came to Jesus with self-deception in his heart rather than a sincere intention to surrender to God. But he realizes that Jesus cannot be fooled by appearances. Nevertheless, Jesus looks at him with love.

We must be cautious not to misunderstand and to misinterpret the text. It is not that we have to part with our possessions or other material things to follow Jesus. Jesus observed the heart of this man and saw that his heart was completely dependent on his possessions. And he realized that his possessions were going to lead to destruction. That is why he asked for the radical action of parting from them. –You can test whether or not your heart has similar attachments–. And secondly: Jesus does not expect us to be perfect overnight. The man was asked to seriously follow the first commandment, namely ‘we are to fear, love and trust God above all things.’ But Jesus is also leading the way, so that he can learn, whether as a scholar, or as a disciple or as a follower of Jesus. And then he sees that God loves him despite his sin and learns that the perfect obedience of the commandments is not able to save him, rather it is God who wants to give him eternal life. From this he can gain a new confidence in God and this confidence will change his heart. And with that changed heart he can begin to fulfill the commandments correctly, acting within the Spirit of the commandments. With this he can begin a relationship with Jesus, but he will remain a scholar, he must keep learning. Are we aware of, dear brothers and sisters, what is involved here? It is not about perfection, but about willingness to learn, to being humble. It is to above all things rely on the word of Jesus and learn from it. The story is shocking because the man is not willing to trust: “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth”. Poor man! With his money he was not happy and the thought of not having any money did not make him happy either. Today, there also are many people that are as poor as this man! Many of these people even consider themselves Christians! Many have refused to return to Jesus, and even feel offended or alluded to, when they say they are treated with contempt when we preach in the church about conversion when what we are really preaching about is what is best for their own salvation! In our country there are many rich people who would be willing to follow Jesus, but are not willing to put God first and change the way they live their lives. And as such, they are going down the wrong path. It is really sad to see them go to perdition.

Jesus is not asking us to reject our possessions, our wealth, our entertainment or distractions in this life. He only wants the sincerity, the honesty of our hearts, in this life. He wants to give us as much as what we have or crave and need, or even more, but the fundamental condition is that we put him on the top of our list. That’s why today’s topic is the most important commandment. Where do we put God? Honest obedience to this commandment is most important and is the key to salvation. We cannot fool God. He knows the depths of our hearts.

The two most important questions from the preaching text for today are:

1) Where are we putting God and his church? Where is God in our earthly and passing life? This is a question we can only answer honestly and only Jesus Christ, who looks at our heart, can verify if the answer is honest. If this answer is not honest, we will receive a similar response to the one that was given to the rich man, a radical response. What was the problem that led Jesus to answer so sharply in that way: it was his dishonesty and the hiding of his true feelings.

2) How can we put Jesus first in our lives?

We are sure that many of us love God. This cannot be a question we can answer in general. Each of us will have to answer to God individually and honestly, but there is a guide that can be useful, ‘that God has the scoop on everything.’ The ancient Israelites, when making offerings of their cattle to God, gave the first fruits to God. Everything belongs to God, because everything comes from him. When we do not acknowledge this in our hearts, we begin to put him in secondary places. In every aspect of life, God and Church must come first, before work, money, time, business, family, entertainment. If we can have this feeling in our hearts, then we’ll find the way to salvation even though we are not perfect. What Jesus wants from our lives is our commitment and our honesty of thought; he sees what we think. He is not paying attention to external things or things that others observe. He sees our heart and is longing for a sincere devotion to him. What makes us truly disciples is a committed trust in Jesus; this is what God asks of us. If we give a firm decision and are honest to God, he will take care so that we lack nothing in this life, not even salvation, which is eternal life. Amen

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