Priorities? Matthew 19.16-26
Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking to a group of young moms at a beautiful tea party held in their honor. At one point, a diminutive strawberry blonde about 30, emotionally said, ‘I feel stuck. We have our lives set up in such a way that it requires two incomes, and I’m in the finance industry... I work about 15 hours a day because that’s what’s expected. That translates to me seeing my two babies less than an hour a day, but I have no choice.’ Her comments, and the sadness she expressed, keep replaying in my mind; in fact, just typing the words now impacts me.
Taking a look at the exchange between Jesus and the man who comes to him wanting important answers about really living … I’m wondering, Is she really living?
“Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
“Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” the man asked.
And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I’ll say it again—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 disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
Push back from the passage and consider the answers Jesus gives the man. He highlights five of the 10 commandments—the last five.1 These particular commandments had to do with maintaining right relationships with people. It seems the man had no problem with those. You can picture him thinking, “‘Murder? No problem there. Adultery? No, I have been faithful. Theft? No, I do not take from others what is not mine. Lying? No, I endeavor to only operate in truth. And I truly honor my father and mother. So, no problem.” Jesus sums those five commandments up with ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.
Check. Check. Check. ‘’That it?’ No. ‘You gotta love me more than your money—could you part with all your stuff?’ Utt-oh. The man hung his head and walked away.
Reminds me of another time a religious leader came to trip up Jesus – making him choose which of the commandments was the most important. Remember, the Jewish people lived exclusively by the Law. Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second [greatest commandment] is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’ 2
The man came seeking life—real life, eternal life; he came to the right person because Jesus came to bring life. The gospel writer who seems to capture this more than any of the other three is John. John identifies himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ because he was so close to Jesus. In just the fourth verse of his gospel he says of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”3 ‘Turns out this fellow who came to Jesus was right about that! If he wanted life—true life—here and now and forever, Jesus was its source.
In just a few short diagnostic questions, Jesus got right to the heart of the priorities that lead to life: loving God, loving people. To the questioner that day, ‘Yes, Man, Jesus came to give life—life to the full—abundant life!4 But you must choose it. And then you must zealously guard it, or it will get away from you. You will put other idols before your God—maybe your children, or money or position—and you will think more highly of yourself then others. Friend, you must zealously guard your priorities.’
You and I must not miss the point of this dialog between Jesus and the questioning fellow. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.5 And if he has already told us in Scripture what pleases him, then we ought take heed, and obey it. Love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself. Priorities? Yes. Amen.
1 – Exodus 20.1-17
2 – Mark 12.30-31
3 – John 1.4
4 – John 10.10
5 – Ephesians 5.10