The man was wealthy and young. Luck had gone his way, and he had amassed a large amount of money and property. He used his money in make more investments and purchase his way into the power structures of his community.
Those who knew him believed him to be an upstanding and religious person. If Time Magazine had been around then, he might well have made the “Man of the Year” cover because of his accomplishments.
He followed the ministry of Jesus and had been impressed with Jesus’ intelligence and power. He was curious about Jesus’ teaching and had never heard anyone teach with such authority.
The young man wanted to talk to Jesus over drinks. What he hoped was that Jesus would give him an imprimatur. An “attaboy.” His question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” was really not about eternal life but about approval.
The rich young man thought he knew what the answer was going to be. He was the poster child for what it meant to be “religious.” He went to synagogue regularly, tithed his wealth, and lived a very honest life. He was faithful to his wife, loved his children, and respectful toward God. This was going to be a slam dunk.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life.” He was smiling until he heard Jesus say, “Sell all you have and give it away to the poor.” “But you don’t understand,” he wanted to reply. “No one is more religious than I am. How can you ask me to do more?”
Jesus knew that would be the answer. The young man was too invested in the power structures of his life. He was afraid that if he sold all he had, he would no longer have any power. If he sold all he had, he would become like the people in his town that he disdained. If he sold all he had he would have to live his life in uncertainty.
Matthew doesn’t tell us what happened to the young man, only that he went away dejected and sad. Jesus’ disciples were aghast. “If this religious man can’t be saved, then who can?” was their response.
That night the young man sadly replayed his conversation with Jesus. The young man knew that Jesus had pulled the curtain back on his motives and values. He also knew that wealth was the real god of his life.