The rich young man wanted to know what he had to do to inherit eternal life. He knew all the commandments and had kept them from his youth (or so he claimed). He still lacked one thing, though, so Jesus told him to “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Upon hearing this, the young man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Gaining eternal life meant losing temporal pleasure. It was a price the young man was unwilling to pay.
Many are drawn to Jesus because of his love, the love that counted not even death too great a cost to purchase the world’s redemption. Yet, in this instance, Jesus’ love turns the rich young man away. “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” It was the same love that drew Jesus to the cross that compelled him to tell the young man what he was lacking in his search for eternal life. This time, however, that love did not draw the young man in. Rather, it drove him away.
What the young man lacked was not compassion for the poor. Neither did he lack a heart filled with charity for others. What he lacked was faith in Jesus to provide for all of his needs. The young man failed the test not because he wasn’t willing to give up his possessions, but because he wasn’t willing to trust Jesus. He could hear Jesus’ commandment not as a loving invitation to enter into a life-transforming relationship, but as an impossible requirement for membership in an exclusive club.
Eternal life does not come cheap for anyone. It costs us everything because it cost Jesus everything. In love, he invites us to die with him to sin and rise with him to new life in the kingdom of God. That boundless, infinite love draws in all who have faith. It also drives away those who lack it.