The Way

If thou wouldst be perfect.

— St. Matthew 19:21

Was the refusal of the young man of necessity final? Because he declined to enter into life, was the door of life closed against him? Verily, I have not so learned Christ. And that the lesson was not lost, I see in this, that he went away sorrowful. Was such sorrow, in the mind of an earnest youth, likely to grow less or more? Could the nature of one who had kept the commandments be so slight that, after having sought and talked with Jesus, he would care less about eternal life than before? Many, alas! have looked upon his face, yet have never seen him, and have turned back; some have kept company with him for years, and denied him; but their weakness is not the measure of the patience or the resources of God. Perhaps this youth was never one of the Lord’s so long as he was on the earth, but perhaps, when he saw that the Master himself cared nothing for the wealth he had told him to cast away, he became one of those who sold all they had, and came and laid the money at the apostles’ feet. In the meantime he had that in his soul which made it heavy: by the gravity of his riches the world held him, and would not let him rise. He counted his weight his strength, and it was his weakness. And how now would he go on with his keeping of the commandments? Would he not begin to see more plainly his shortcomings, the larger scope of their requirements? Might be not feel the keeping of them more imperative than ever, yet impossible without something he had not? It needs all the power of a live soul to keep the law—a power of life, not of struggle; the strength of love, not the effort of duty. 

Commentary

The Root of All Evil?
by Diane Adams

Give me the spirituality of a homeless heroin addict who refuses the life of God and mourns over that loss rather than a Christian who says he will follow and does not any day. I struggle with the inside of a church. Haven’t been in years, to be honest. One of the reasons for this is the affectation of obedience I rightly or wrongly perceive among many leaders and attendees.

When my husband lost his job for refusing to do something that was unethical, I had a chance to observe firsthand how a surprisingly large population within the church seems to truly feel about money, position, and success. The attitude had nothing to do with following after the life of Jesus, and everything to do with self-promotion and deception. I clearly recall one leader of a church in a large Southern city castigating my husband for his lack of “success”. The man was exorbitantly wealthy, and could do nothing but judge those down below. Worse yet, the money he made came from teaching others about the teachings of Jesus.

I think I could handle better attending a church led by the rich young ruler. He honestly answers that he cannot do what Jesus requires, and his heart is sad that he cannot. But he does not try to say he is doing God’s will, does not pretend to be something he is not. The man who admits to his corruption is less corrupt than the man who pretends he is clean when he is not.

I know there is a verse in the Bible that says that the love of money is the root of all evil. In a way, I can see the truth of it, but I think it is not always money that is at the root of deception in terms of our own spirituality. Perhaps the most compelling reason for convincing ourselves we believe something we actually do not is to improve one’s sense of self worth, a personal currency if you will.

A house built on sand is a house that will collapse under pressure. A true sense of self-worth must begin with a radical honesty about who we are and what it is we really desire. It is better to walk away from following Jesus than to believe we follow him when we truly only seek to present ourselves to ourselves as successful spiritually. It’s easier to turn around a flat-out no than it is to untangle lies built on unacknowledged desires and motives we refuse to acknowledge.  

I don’t know if I am right or wrong here, in terms of the root of all evil, but I do know I would rather pray with an open rebel than a false disciple. Perhaps the only truly fatal sin there is the sin of self-deception.