AS DEPENDENT AND WITHOUT CONTROL AS BABIES
Who, do you suppose is the most vulnerable group or class in human society? The very old, the very ill or the very poor—they’re all vulnerable and pretty close to helpless, aren’t they? These would certainly come to mind and with good reason but I’d like to isolate the little children who also are utterly dependent and completely vulnerable but especially because they fit into the context of Jesus’ meeting with the rich ruler [a rich young ruler—Matthew 19:20, 22].
Not to be in control, to be helpless, completely dependent—how would that feel? We know of such people in millions, don’t we! We see and hear of the current events in the media, read of the world’s awful wrongs in history and now and then personally experience occasions when we were in that state. Who wants it? Who would want to want it?
Then there’s the other end of that spectrum. What parent hasn’t thrilled at a toddler’s first unaided steps or laughed over the child’s first attempt to use a spoon or parroted the first word? First signs of a coming independence. How sweet it all is! First time to tie shoe-laces, first unaided bicycle ride, first day at school, first job first.., Independence; bye bye helplessness, hello self-dependence and provision, so long “I can’t do it by myself.”
Once tasted and once the healthy awareness comes that I can and should do some things by myself, it’s onwards and upwards and inwards. It’s healthy, this feeling of being in control, and we’re not to apologize for it but like every other good and rich blessing it can become distorted, misused and become as occasion for arrogance.
In Luke18:9-14 there’s this religious teacher who is able truthfully to say that he is morally upright—he even thanks God for his moral power and behavior. Jesus said the man was in trouble! How was that? He was in trouble because he loved his control and used it to prove to himself, God and man that he was ‘not like other men” [Luke 18:11]. He made it clear he wasn’t dependent, wasn’t helpless, wasn’t vulnerable. As Luke puts it, in 18:9, he was one of those upright types who “trusted in themselves.”
Jesus contrasted him with a man who called himself “the sinner” and couldn’t even lift his eyes when he asked God to be merciful to him [18:13-14]. Jesus said the sinner man who knew he needed and begged for mercy got God’s approval and assurance rather than the morally upright man who exalted himself in God’s presence.
From there Jesus moved on to the vulnerable and utterly dependent little children. In saying people won’t enter the kingdom unless they are like children [18:15-17] Jesus wasn’t talking about some character traits we often see in children—he was talking about their sense of utter need and dependence. Those who would enter the kingdom would come to Him in need of blessings and to be blessed by him [18:15].
Then we have the rich man, the rich ruler man, the rich young ruler man [Luke 18:18-23]. To have great wealth is to be powerful and when you are a rich ruler the power is increased and when you’re young and healthy it can be increased even more.
There is no reason to believe that this young man was arrogant. He walked away very saddened but he didn’t walk away fuming [“How dare he…?]. He came so the text suggests seeking assurance. On the whole, does that suggest arrogance? He’s rich, he’s a young man and he’s a ruler and he comes seeking advice and assurance? I prefer to think he didn’t come with a smirk, self-satisfied, just to see what Jesus would say to a splendid example of success like him. Somewhere in him insecurity lurked and he wanted to get it straight.
Jesus gave him no lecture about legalism when he asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. “You trying to earn your way into heaven young man?” None of that! Never entered Jesus’ head that he was trying to earn life. See how in Luke 10:25-27 Jesus dealt with another man who asked the same question but with a poorer spirit. There the man asked what he “must do” and got no lecture about “legalism” and Jesus told him to do what the Bible told him to do.
But though the rich young ruler wasn’t arrogant and he wasn’t trying to earn life with God it appears that Jesus knew that his wealth was a problem for him so he called him to distribute it all to the poor and come and follow the Lord. Jesus was thrilled when Zaccheus only committed to give away half of his wealth [Luke 19:8-10].
So the young man must have been greedy, selfish, and covetous—yes? No, we have no reason to believe he was any of those particular things though it’s possible he was guilty of that. But when we’re told that Jesus looked on him and “loved him” [Mark 10:31] it’s difficult to see him as having such a character. And when Mark suggests that it was because Jesus loved him that he called him to distribute his wealth and come with him the sense is [to me anyway] that the Lord is moved rather than repelled by this young man. He sees him as in need of love and straight speech rather than contempt. Jesus wanted to bring him in rather than drive him away and it looks to me that the Lord saw the danger that faced this young rich ruler and was trying to save him from it.
In the Luke context that leads up to the young man’s encounter it seems clear that justification, entrance into God’s kingdom or eternal life call for an awareness of full dependence, vulnerability, lack of power or control and it may well be that this was the young man’s trouble. To give away the power that wealth ensures, to step down from an established place of leadership and become one of the band of Jesus with all the uncertainty that that would involve, maybe that was the central problem. “Dispense with all that assures you and promises security in control and leave yourself vulnerable.” Surely that’s something of what Jesus is saying to him.
But we mustn’t miss Jesus’ promise that if he makes such a loving use of his great wealth that he would gain treasure in heaven rather than saying “you will be saved.” Money and its use here is part of the focus. But underneath all that is, “And come and follow me.” Was Jesus inviting him to become part of a band that kept company with Jesus as well as, in general, a disciple? I think so. He was being called to make up his mind about Jesus.
So many dangers! Genuine upright behavior can become a threat to the upright. Feeling no vulnerability, no need of help [“Don’t talk to me as if I were a baby!”] or seeking assurance by what we have—position, wealth or…It’s all grace, we’re entirely dependent on GOD and his gracious provision from beginning to end.
Yes, but how do we respond to that grace? First believe and receive it then work it out!