Formations 03.26.2023: Sticking Points

Luke 18:18-30

This week’s passage tells the story of a character conventionally called “the rich, young ruler.” You might be surprised to learn that this is a designation we never actually read in Scripture. In Mark, the oldest of the Gospels, he is simply “a man” (Mk 10:17). Matthew takes us a step further by calling him a “young man” (Matt 19:20, 22). Luke never comments on the man’s age, and he is the only Gospel-writer to identify him as a “ruler” (v. 18).

Of course, all three Synoptic Gospels agree that he has many possessions—that’s the point of the story. We also learn that this rich man is pious. He has kept the commandments since his youth.

The man is a picture of success, at least as we usually define it. His religious uprightness has no doubt earned him the respect of his community. He is trusted and esteemed, an honorable man. If Matthew is right about his age, he is in the prime of life. And he has money to burn. Doesn’t that sound like a near-perfect life to you?

Yet despite his many privileges, Jesus tells him there is one thing still lacking. He must give his money to the poor and come to follow Jesus.

Why doesn’t Jesus simply say, “Follow me”? Why does he also require the rich ruler to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor? It seems that for all the man has going for him, his life isn’t as perfect as we might imagine.

Maybe that’s why he came to Jesus in the first place. On the surface, the man has it all, but appearances can be deceiving. He has followed the commandments from his youth, but maybe he needs a little help in grasping their deeper meaning. “I am the LORD your God… you shall have no other gods before me” (Exod 20:2-3).

Did Jesus perceive that the man’s many possessions were his true god? That seems to be the case, because when he hears what Jesus requires of him, he leaves with sadness. Selling his possessions and giving to the poor is more than he is willing to do.

The man’s sticking point is his wealth, but many things can distract us from wholehearted devotion to God. It might be our family, our reputation, or our leisure. It might even be things like worry or anger. If we can’t find it in us to let go of these things, they might as well be our gods.

What might Jesus be calling us to give up? And if sounds like too much, how can we claim Jesus’s promise that “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God” (v. 27)?


• Why do you think the ruler sought out Jesus?
• What might he have expected Jesus to tell him?
• What “gods” seem to hold the most sway over Christians today?
• What does this story imply about the relationship between faith and good works?
• Jesus promises houses and family “in this age” to those who follow him (vv. 29-30). What did he mean by this? How do we experience this today?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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