A man approaches the teacher. He is aflame with the enthusiasm of the swollen crowd and he finds this teacher's message to be persuasive and disparate. The throng of people showing up to hear these words has been steadily growing and the man has not missed many opportunities to listen, not even as his father lay ill. But his father has just died and, having fulfilled the responsibility of caring for him, he wonders if he might join the rabbi and walk with him as a true disciple. As he nears, the teacher looks at him. No. It's not just that.
The teacher sees him.
The man can almost palpably feel it. Then the teacher speaks two words. An invitation. A command.
The man feels the fibers of everything in him respond with instant certainty.
Yes. Yes, of course.
A heartbeat and then the image of his father's still form, his mother's frame bent over him in grief.
Soon. Soon he can follow, but first, there are things to be done. Things which are surely honorable, which surely no God fearing son should neglect. This may even endear him to this teacher, that he would see to his father first.
"Master, permit me first to go any bury my father"
But the rabbi smiles at him, inclining his head. He says only,
"Let the dead bury their own dead. You go proclaim the Kingdom of God"
Another man. Another day. He walks carefully, avoiding the damp places in the road, or anywhere little clusters of flies swarm. To himself he speaks the Shema
"Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad" - Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is One.
Nearby, someone is cooking unclean meat. The rich smell is like a branding iron in his nose, and he purposefully turns his whole face away. He scans the horizon for signs of a crowd, the usual marker indicating the presence of Judea's most revolutionary Rabbi. After years of study the careful young man has won coveted acclaim from some of the most respected teachers of the law. He has been invited to be a disciple at the feet of some of the greatest Rabbis in Judea, because of his meticulous observance not only of the Aseret ha-D'varim, but of each small Mitzvah as well.
But it is to the new Rabbi that he has decided to go.
He has had to guard carefully against his own pride regarding his mastery of the law, but he still walks with a certain confidence. He knows he has much to offer. His family's wealth has afforded him the liberty to partake in scholarship of the law, and he has applied himself with hungry enthusiasm to understanding. He assumes it doesn't hurt that he can provide financial patronage as well as spiritual submission to the teacher, but mostly he is eager to receive the approval that his forefather Abraham himself must have known, the righteousness which grants eternal life with Adonai.
Today he will find him; this master of unpredictable words, who offers teachings that fall like fresh water on his soul. He has determined to offer all he has in service of this man.
He nearly passes the master on the road, accompanied only by his talmidim, the twelve men who are always with him. But, seeing him passing by, he runs to the teacher. He knows he must demonstrate humility. Teachability. "Let my first act be to ask for instruction, as I hope to be accepted as his student" he thinks to himself. He does not suppress his eagerness when he asks;
"Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
The one called Yeshua turned. The one rumors circulated around, claims of heresy, claims of deity, of the Messiah come.
Yeshua considered the young man, then spoke;
"Good? Why do you call me good? No one is good except God"
So few words to strike such a crisis of conflict inside the young man. A fissure at the foot of his mountain of accomplishments. Why had this master rebuked him on so small a point? And how could a master not even consider himself good?
"You know the Mitzvah" the Master said.
"I do" thought the young man "but how does he know that I do?"
The master continued, "Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t give false testimony, don’t defraud, honor your father and mother, . . .’”
Without waiting for him to finish listing the Aseret ha-D'varim he interrupted. "Rabbi,” he said, “I have kept all these since I was a boy.”
The master smiled at him, at his eager response. A smile full of Chesed. Loving-kindness. The sort of kindness that knew a man, from the inside out. The hungry heart, the feet that didn't walk, but instead ran to him; the vein of pride which he tried to suppress; the myriad ways he had assumed the judge's place, in the depths of his heart, noticing when his brethren were less observant. Less careful. Yeshua saw him clearly, each insufficient, imperfect particle, longing to be reconciled and whole.
Yeshua saw and loved him. The young man knew it was so, as certainly as he knew the Aseret ha-D'varim.
In the silence of that considering gaze, hope surged. He had made the right choice, coming to this man, who gave gifts of acceptance with a mere glance. He went through the catalogue of carefully kept practices one more time, in his mind, prepared to respond to whatever mandate Jesus offered as the cost of discipleship. He readied himself to bear up under whatever law the Master determined was the hinge upon which swung the door of righteousness. Every Rabbi centered his teaching around a most important thing.
Into the silence of baited breath Yeshua spoke.
"Then you are only missing one thing" Yeshua said softly. The man's heart leapt, like a wave, building inside.
Then Yeshua gently laid his fault lines bare. Kindly, firmly, he said "Go. Sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
The man felt the fissure go wide, the mountain of his goodness and effort imploding like so much dust. Did the master not know that he would gladly offer his wealth in service of the Rabbi? Wouldn't it be better used to build synagogues, to expand the boundaries of this teacher's renown? To just give it away - the landmark of his family name, his entire heritage and the vehicle by which he had come to understand the law, to discard it entirely, how could the master even consider such a thing? When the master could all but control it, with it still in his possession, he would require that it be forsaken?
From cavernous despair, he looked out. His invitation to sit at this Rabbi's feet had come, but at what cost? A steeper price than he could bring himself to pay. In one small command, this teacher had identified the one thing he could not....would not...do, for Adonai.
Who was he, to have thought he could be like Abraham, who had the faith and devotion to lay his own son on the altar of the Lord?
The crowd had finally found them, while they stood there speaking. Some were pale in the hot afternoon sun - those, he assumed, with wealth to lose. Those discomfited at the notion that your wealth could apprehend your immortal soul. Even the master's Talmidim looked wary and grave. Without a word, the young man turned to go. He heard Yeshua behind him, speaking to the Talmidim and the assembled men
“It will be difficult for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
The man paused at the edge of the crowd, the sounds of defensive whispers moving through them like wind in tall grass. One of the Talmidim, his tone cautious and concerned, ventured to clarify, saying; “Then who can be saved?”
From the back of the crowd, the young man turned, strained to hear the master's reply. Onto the wreckage of his useless good works, Yeshua laid a new cornerstone, a solid foundation of immovable hope, Yeshua looked at the crowd, his eyes met the rich young man's, as he said
“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
Over and over we see it, although we all try to make a formula out of righteousness. We find fault in wealth, disdain earthly attachments, we extrapolate our own good from the shortcomings of others. Meanwhile the message is spread like a feast before us;
Jesus didn't give the same command to the man whose father had died that he did to the man with great wealth. The point wasn't the money or the relationships. The object of our affection isn't the flaw. The point is; our heart and our treasure are inexorably linked and God, like a jealous lover, is unwilling to cede the affection of our hearts to any other. "You shall have no other gods before me". No idols, no other lovers, no other thing whose worth we hold as high. Hehe knows what we treasure in the secret rooms of our hidden hearts and he wants to be our only darling desire.
And if that seems daunting to us, it is only because our faith is too small for us to understand that to desire him the most is to let him make all things possible for us.
These stories were taken from Mark 9 and Mark 10. Accounts of these can also be found in Matthew and Luke, but I love Mark's account. In the story of the wealthy young man, only Mark specifies that when Jesus looked at the eager face who had just run to stand before him, he looked at him with love. The words of Jesus and other persons are directly quoted. The scenario and specifics about the wealthy young man and the man whose father has just died, I have drawn an imagination's picture of. I want to be clear that this is just one small attempt to consider what it must have been like to have that experience with Jesus - to be those people, who, like me were imperfect and in need of grace. I'm not trying to re-write the Word, or add to it. Just to offer an artist's rendering, if you will.