The Rich Young Ruler and Coveting
Matthew 19: 16 – 25
The rich young ruler’s apparent self-righteousness far from being outrageous, reflects a normal human condition. He considered himself spiritually upright as murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and dishonouring one’s parents were not his run of the mill transgressions. This wealthy and respectable young man would have been an asset to any religious community, but Jesus went straight for his jugular. When it came to coveting, he was definitely without excuses, and he went away grieving. And similar to pride, none of us would actually openly own up to the fact that we are covetous! The last Commandment goes beyond our behaviours, and like everything that has to do with our God, it impacts matters of our heart, namely our thoughts, feelings, and inclinations. It is well nigh impossible to be indifferent when we come face-to-face with our Lord; we either are confronted with His total demands on our life and attempt to get it right, or we become offended by them and turn away from Him.
Furthermore, the presumptuous young ruler thought that by securing eternal life, it would add value to his position and wealth. This mindset is not altogether foreign in our respective cultural premise. But when loving God and neighbour with our whole being were equated with parting with one’s entire wealth altogether, this was not in his equation. We know that those goals are humanly impossible to achieve, but Jesus pointed it out to ensure that His audience realizes that these are the eternal goals of His kingdom, and are only achievable through Him. This puts to rest the assumptions that who we are positionally in this world and what we possess would enhance our Christian discipleship.
The way Jesus handled this young man’s wealth surfaced an issue particular to him. There is nothing immoral about being wealthy, and Scripture does not condemn it, but its insidious relationship with this young ruler meant that it held a personified hold over him that disqualified him from following the Lord. Why would coveting be such a serious misdemeanor?
We do not need anyone to tutor us in the art of coveting as it forms part of our fallen subconscious human inclination; watching toddlers squabble over their favourite toy is evidential! Its roots ensure that we are never totally gratified with our possessions, as it continues to ceaselessly tempt our worldly deliberations and sensitivities to draw us away from where our affections ought to be purposefully centred, and its destructive focus on the self invariably diminishes our Christ-like joy.
What would be the antidote to covetousness? To be able to see with our eye of faith that our treasures on earth are destructible and temporal, while the treasure in heaven, the person of our Saviour, is imperishable and eternal would be a first step. Hence, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2) and to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt 6:33) draw us into yielding our life in entirety to Him. The context of the Hebrew passage has only one message as it used the analogy of running this earthly ‘race,’ it is that spiritual multitasking or being sidetracked is never an asset! To look undistractedly into our Lord’s face as soon as covetousness appears at our doorstep, would involve a conscious effort to always focus away unto Jesus. This overcoming results from a devout relationship with our Lord, which does not happen overnight, just as Christlikeness does not develop suddenly. To possess Godly contentment (1 Tim 6:6), without abnegating divine opportunities is to discover a joyful and restful relationship in Christ when we trust Him for our needs (Phil 4:11). When every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17), our contentment is invariably accompanied with heartfelt thankfulness for all that we, and others, have received from above.