The Bible passage can be read online here.
Simon and Garfunkel were one of the most successful duos of all time but their paths to fame and fortune were not straightforward. When they released their first album, ‘Wednesday Morning 3am’, it sold a meagre 3,000 copies. A record producer took one of the tracks from the album, ‘The Sound of Silence’, and remixed it without Paul Simon’s consent, using a group of musicians to give it a more upbeat feel. On hearing the new version, Simon was horrified but by then, the single was selling in huge numbers, it went on to top the charts in the US, selling more than one million copies and the rest, as they say, is history.
In today’s passage, Jesus says some fascinating things but it’s what he doesn’t say, the sound of silence (see what I did there?) that is perhaps most fascinating of all.
The man in this passage is commonly known as the Rich Young Ruler. We get the fact that he is a ruler from Luke and from Matthew (Matthew 19:29) the fact that he was young. The man asked a good question, his confidence in his keeping of the commandments suggest he was expecting to be commended by Jesus. Jesus first challenged the whole idea of goodness – only God is truly good. This should perhaps have given the man pause for thought.
Jesus then held the young man against the standard of the Ten Commandments, a standard he would have known well and one where he had great confidence (v21). When we look at the Ten Commandments, we see that they are divided into two parts. Part 1, Commandments 1-4, are concerned with a person’s dealings with God;
- No other gods (Exodus 20:3)
- No idols (Exodus 20:4-6)
- Do not misuse the Lord’s name (Exodus 20:7)
- Remember the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11)
Jesus didn’t mention any of these Commandments even though they are the most important since the others mean nothing if the Commandments referring to God are ignored. The remaining laws are concerned with relationships within the community.
- Honour your father and mother (Exodus 20:12) – the young man was ok here (v20)
- Do not murder (Exodus 20:13) – he was ok here too (v20)
- No adultery (Exodus 20:14) – still ok (v20)
- Do not steal (Exodus 20:15) – looking good (v20)
- Do not lie (Exodus 20:16) – he’s on a roll! (v20)
- Do not covet (Exodus 20:17) – the sound of silence!
Jesus did not forget the Tenth Commandment, I’m sure by now you are building up a picture of Jesus and you will know that he doesn’t just forget things, his silence pointed to the ruler’s problem – he was covetous, he loved wealth. Until he dealt with his problem he could not possibly address Commandments 1-4 and have a right relationship with God. That’s why Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. The man seemed to have everything but he was a prisoner to his greed. We are back again to the Parable of the Sower; some seed (the word of God) fell among thorns (the deceitfulness of riches) and the thorns choked the plants. Before we leave this Rich Young Ruler there is one other thing we should know and it’s found in Mark’s account; ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him’ (Mark 10:21). Jesus knew the man would reject his call but he loved him anyway, his love reached out to him.
The final part of the passage deals with Jesus teaching his disciples. They saw riches as the blessing of God so if the rich can’t be saved, who can? “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” We need a miracle, no one is good (v18), only by grace can we gain eternal life. What’s more, following Jesus is worth it.
“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” (Romans 12:1-2 JB Phillips Translation)