|One afternoon this Spring, I met the Rich Young Ruler. He was a well dressed young professional, who sat next to me and simply struck up a conversation. Eventually the conversation turned to my vocation, drawing out his thoughts on religion: “All religions are the same,” he said, “they all teach the same basic message: Do not murder, do not steal…” He rhymed off most of the Ten Commandments. I listened to his story as he recounted to me the ways he had observed various world religions having failed at keeping the commandments they claimed to believe would save them. Following these commandments did not seem, to him, to be the way to salvation.Taking my cues from Luke 18, I agreed with him that what so many beliefs (including perversions of our own) seem to have in common is that they start with rules and laws, or some other human achievement. There is always something that one must do in order to gain eternal life, spiritual awareness, or whatever end result is sought. This is what the Rich Young Ruler had naturally come to expect, and why he asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What my friend observed was the same reason the Rich Young Ruler left in disappointment: the bar is always set too high for humans to reach, and we always fall short.
What is unique about the Christian faith, I shared, is that God came to Earth as one of us, the very best of us, and so the starting point is not that we have to do the impossible, but that in living the life we could not, and conquering death for us, God has already done it. Of course our faith has rules and laws, including the Ten Commandments, but as a worshipful response to God’s loving gift of eternal life, rather than as a prerequisite. He told me he had never heard the gospel story all at once before, and when it came time to go, my new friend was reflectively saying, “that makes a lot of sense” before we traded email addresses to keep in touch.
What friend of yours echoes a familiar story from scripture? Do you know a prodigal like the one in Luke 15? Someone worshipping a nebulous “Unknown God” like those Paul met in Acts 17? A curious reader like the one Philip met in Acts 8? As we continue to grow as disciples of Christ, and naturally share our faith with family, friends, and even with new friends as I did this Spring, our witness will often follow the shape of such stories in scripture.
|Luke 18:18-27 (The Rich Young Ruler) – A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother.” ‘ He replied, ‘I have kept all these since my youth.’ When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’ (NRSV)|