"What must I do?"
It's a very common question and probably one we ask more often than we would like to think. Growing up we ask it, at work we ask our boss what he would like us to do next, in our families - the same question. Of course, it can be a very helpful question to ask as it points us to our next task. And that's the problem I want to address, it's a very task oriented question. By it's very nature it focusses on doing and the implication of the question is that we want to do the right thing.
One day when Jesus was on a journey, a rich young man ran up to him and asked him this same question. Here was a man who seemingly had everything: he was wealthy, he had status, no doubt he had a reputation and felt that he should be looked up to. Humanly speaking he seemed to have everything but he is searching for an answer. There is something going on in his heart as he knows that he has not found the real meaning to life despite everything being quite comfortable for him. He is not satisfied and he knows it. There is a longing in his heart that hasn't been satisfied by his wealth, status or reputation. He knows there is something more, yet he doesn't know what he is looking for.
In Jesus, he sees a man who has the answer. He sees someone who, on the face of it, is not wealthy, nor does he have a prominent place in society but somehow he seems content. Somehow Jesus seems to know what really satisfies and this rich young man knows that he has the answer. He knows that Jesus can truly satisfy the longing and desires of his heart.
So he runs up to Jesus and asks "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). In that moment he reveals that there is a longing in his heart for something more, something greater, a deeper understanding of the meaning of life. He knows he lacks something and has found someone who can help him with his problem. At this point in the conversation Jesus is very clever, he doesn't immediately give the man the answer but he turns the question back to him by pointing him to the law (the ten commandments). In effect he tells the man that he already knows what he should be doing; he should go and keep all the requirements of the law.
I wonder what the young man felt at that moment. He'd come seeking for an answer and he is told to go away and do more of the same. In his heart he knows that the requirement of the law has not satisfied nor has it given him the peace which he is searching for. He knows there is something more than and it can't be received simply by doing the right thing all the time. In desperation almost he tells Jesus that ever since he was a boy he kept the law, he has done the right thing but it hasn't filled the emptiness of his heart. He is craving something deeper and it won't be found by doing the right thing. For too long he has lived with an ache in his heart and now he wants his longing to be fully satisfied. He's, at last, found the man with the answer.
He has asked a question and it's one that we ask too. "What must I do?"
The thing is, it's the wrong question. It's a question that will not satisfy, it will only lead us further down the pathway of self effort and performance. What the young man was really saying "what more do I have to do in order to please God, or to make my peace with him?" The trouble with that question is once we have done 'the more' we have to ask it again and again. Our mindset tells us that the only way to appease God is by constantly seeking out the good we need to do. To me, that sounds like the fruit of the wrong tree! The pursuit of the knowledge of what is good and desperately trying not to do those things we perceive as bad. We're striving to climb the (wrong) tree of works and performance. It doesn't work nor does it satisfy.
Like the rich young man, doing the right things will not satisfy us.
I imagine at this point he is pretty desperate. "Jesus, won't you tell me what to do!" And all Jesus does is look at him and love him (Mark 10:21). Can you imagine what that look of love looked like. It would have been encouraging, comforting and, no doubt, very winsome.
And then Jesus speaks: "One thing you lack".
Have you ever noticed that Jesus doesn't actually tell him what he lacks. Rather he tells him to go and do something (sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor). What Jesus is doing is giving the man the key which will enable him to then discover the thing that he lacks. If only he can let go of his props (his wealth, status and reputation) then he will be able to discover the thing he is missing.
The young man couldn't do it. Despite that look of love he couldn't let go of his man-made security. He went away sad.
If only he'd been able to let go of his props he would have discovered the key which would enable him to receive eternal life.
Just before this young man came to Jesus, Jesus had been taking little children in his arms and blessing them. As he so often said "anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:15). This is the only way for us to truly enter the kingdom of Heaven.
I think the young man was watching Jesus with the children but felt that having a childlike heart was beneath him. For someone as important as him there had to be another way. I think he watches, he wonders and then he follows Jesus to ask how a man of his wealth and position can receive. Jesus' challenge is not because he wants the man to be poor, rather he wants him to let go of the things that he holds to himself and which prevent him coming with a childlike heart. If only he can let those go he would be in a position where he could begin to have a childlike heart and then (and only then) would the longing in his heart be satisfied.
He couldn't do it. Sadly, he is one of the wise and learned who Jesus refers to in Matthew 11. They can't embrace a childlike heart and so can't enter the kingdom of Heaven. In fact, without a childlike heart it is impossible to have a revelation of the Father (Matthew 11:25-27). I believe the extent in which we know the Father is directly related to the childlike state of our heart.
We too, ask that question "What must I do?". Like the rich young man we won't be satisfied unless and until we come with a childlike heart. For the rich young man, he needed to let go of his wealth and his pride. What about us? What do we need to let go of in order to discover the simplicity of a childlike heart. It is only as we turn around and humble ourselves that we can have a childlike heart and begin to enter more fully into a relationship with our loving Heavenly Father.
The man wanted to 'do'. He had to stop 'doing' in order to be able to receive. He couldn't do it, can we?
Walking As Jesus Walked
Jesus promises that, when we come to him and allow him to lead us to the Father, we will begin to live freely and lightly.