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Matthew 19:16-22

The danger of riches: What kind of grip do they have on you?

Tom Faletti

February 13, 2024

Matthew 19:16-22 The rich young man


Why do you think Jesus starts off by asking the man why he is asking about the good?


Describe the young man.  Besides being rich, what kind of person was he?


Some people might say that the young man was a “good person” who also happened to be rich.  Do you know people like that?


Others might say he was person who followed religious rules but kept his wealth to himself and didn’t care about the poor.  Do you know people like that?


In verse 16, the young man asks: What good deed (singular) must I do?  At first, it sounds like he thinks there is one magic step that would guarantee him eternal life.  How would you answer, if someone asked you what is the one thing they need to do to go to heaven?

My answer, which would show that faith (and life) is more complicated than that, might be: The one thing you need to do is to give every part of your life over to Jesus to serve him.  In other words, there isn’t one simple, single thing.


When the young man asks which commandments he needs to keep, what is Jesus’s response?


Notice that Jesus includes not only parts of the Ten Commandments but also to love your neighbor as yourself.  How does that up the ante for what is expected?


In verse 20, we find out what the heart of the problem is.  This young man has been striving valiantly to fulfill all of the laws in the Old Testament (and there were very many! – 613 of them).  He still feels a void.  The very fact that he is asking this question, rather than feeling smug in his devotion to the Law, tells you the internal struggle he is going through.  You can hear the pain in his voice as he asks, “What do I still lack?” (19:20, NABRE)


Have you ever hit a point in your spiritual life where you felt like you were doing everything you were supposed to be doing and it still wasn’t enough?  If so, what did you learn from that time of struggle?



In verse 21, Jesus prefaces his directive to sell all with the phrase, “If you wish to be perfect.”  The Greek word translated “perfect” here means complete or finished and responds to the man’s sense of being unfinished in his pursuit of eternal life.  Jesus is inviting the young man to a new level of perfection or completion in his desire to follow God.


In verse 21, Jesus tells the young man that to address what he feels is lacking in his life, he needs to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and come follow Jesus – i.e., follow him completely, without any earthly attachments.  How might that address what the young man feels is lacking in his life?



Do you think this directive to sell all you have applies to all people, or was it specifically chosen to meet the need of this young man?

Consider that while many people shared from their wealth in the early church, they were not required to do so – see, for example, Acts 5:1-4.  Also consider friends of Jesus such as Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, who did not sell all they had and follow him.


If we don’t give up our possessions, does that mean we can’t be “perfect”?


Does it mean we can’t go to heaven?


Does it mean there is some stage of discipleship that we will miss out on?


Why might riches be an obstacle to perfect discipleship?

Members of my Bible Study group offered answers such as: They might lead people to think they don’t need God.  They might be a distraction from what is important to God.  They might cause us to put our focus on material things instead of the things that matter most to God.  They might encourage us to focus on ourselves, our own ego and interests, and become selfish.


For you, how might your possessions and wealth (however big or small) be an obstacle to following Jesus more perfectly or completely?



Some people think that Jesus was asking this particular young man to take the step he needed to take to fulfill his calling, but that it does not necessarily apply to all people.  Why might this not apply to everyone?


What might be the particular step you need to take to fulfill your calling?



Take a step back and consider:


Since each of us is unique, it wouldn’t be surprising that what one person needs is different than what another person needs.  One person feels called to the priesthood, another to a marriage relationship, and a third never feels a tug in either of those directions.  One person feels called to government service and another to the world of high finance.  One person is a prosecutor while another is a public defender.  One person feels called to the interior life of prayer and meditation, while another is devoted to a wide range of social relationships and activities.  God has made each of us unique.


Yet whoever we are, wherever we are, we need to come to grips with our relationship with possessions.  Even a hermit might have to struggle with this: Where do “things” fit into my life and how do they affect my spiritual life?


There are many people who will tell you how to deal with the possessions in your house, whether by buying closet organizers, sorting things into piles, or gently giving them away.  Jesus’s concern here is not where you put your possessions, but what hold they might have on your heart.


What is your current relationship with your possessions?


Do you give them an appropriate priority, or do they tend to overshadow things that are more important?


Are things that have a “grip” on you that you need to break free from?


Is there something you need to do with your possessions to address something lacking in your spiritual life?



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Copyright © 2024, Tom Faletti (Faith Explored, This material may be reproduced in whole or in part without alteration, for nonprofit use, provided such reproductions are not sold and include this copyright notice or a similar acknowledgement that includes a reference to Faith Explored and See for more materials like this.

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