Jesus had just been to the man’s locality and had presumably done His normal preaching, teaching, and healing in the public gathering areas of that locality. Whatever Jesus said has caused a stirring within the man.
We might ask, why didn’t he ask this question earlier?
It is a real interruption to the schedule Jesus had, and we aren’t told what the consequences of setting out then and there actually were, eg not getting to the next place before night fall; having to stay an extra day where they were, missing a meal or celebration, maybe spending the night on the ground instead of under a roof. But Jesus doesn’t complain, He patiently listens to the man, and gives him His full attention.
Unlike the question the Pharisees put last week, this question is real and authentic, and we’ve all heard someone ask a version of it.
He asks, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’
In other words, What’s the minimum I have to do to get a dead-cert entry pass for heaven?
Or, ‘If there a one-stop, fix, set-and-forget way to obtain eternal life?’
This man is thinking in terms of a transaction, like buying a plane ticket or a car.
But this question must have been niggling at him for a while.
I can imagine an internal battle going on inside him:
Do I really want this question answered?
How much do I want this question answered?
What if I don’t like the answer?
This Jesus person is the only person I’ve come across who could really answer this question.
So are you going to approach Him or not?
Does my desire for the answer outweigh the possible public notoriety for asking it?
He’s possibly been wrestling with himself for days, ever since Jesus showed up; and it is only the thought of missing out on ever getting the answer - because Jesus is leaving and unlikely to ever return - that eventually pushes him into action but at the last possible moment.
Jesus now seeks a bit more background before He answers. It isn’t quite like answering a question with a question as He did with the Pharisees, but it is similar.
From the 10 commandments, Jesus selects only those that are about our relationships with each other, and not in our memorized order either, No 6 You shall not kill; No 7 You shall not commit adultery; No 8 You shall not steal; No 9 You shall not give false witness, an interesting spin on No 10 You shall not defraud; and No.5 Honour your father and your mother.
The man replies, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my earliest days’; in other words: ‘I know these are not enough, otherwise I would not have come to You, I sense much more is required, but I don’t know what that ‘much more’ is, and I do want to know’. To be capable of desiring the ‘much more’, the man would have to be feeling restlessness and dissatisfaction with his current life.
Aha! It is God Himself who has been stirring within this man if he is able to verbalize this truth.
Jesus gazed at him with ‘agape’ love and gave him the momentous answer; ‘Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have wealth in heaven; then, come, follow Me’.
‘Come follow me’ is what Jesus said when He invited each of the apostles into special relationship with Him.
Later on, when the man has left, Jesus speaks to His own, and He gazes at them with the same ‘agape’ love.
Answering like this, Jesus tells the man (and us), that heaven isn’t an object to be purchased, but a relationship with Him that requires 100% ongoing commitment.
For this man, used to purchasing all he desires through material wealth, the price of eternal life is far too high. Purchasing objects needs zero emotional involvement; entering an apostolic relationship with Jesus needs total emotional commitment, and total commitment from every other area of his life.
High calling, high reward, requiring high personal cost.
Who can make and keep such an audacious commitment to the person of Jesus?
Only those called and empowered to do so by God.
This is what sets the vocational call to consecrated, religious, or priestly life beyond the regular baptismal call to holiness.
As Jesus promises, it is this 100% giving of themselves to Him, the leaving everything and following Him, which gets rewarded a hundred-fold in this life, and in eternal life.
Notice that Jesus leaves the man completely free to decide, He neither badgers, coerces nor entices. He just offers an invitation.
We know that the man walked away sad. He was offered the Great Treasure, an apostolic calling, yet he rejected it.
It is reasonable to assume that Jesus was saddened as well. Who knows? If this chap had said ‘Yes’ maybe today he would be a household name of the same magnitude as Peter or Paul, instead of a nameless cautionary tale.
Where does that leave us?
Firstly it leaves us praying for those whom Jesus is calling into an apostolic commitment to Him, that they may be given the heavenly help to say their total Yes to Jesus.
Secondly it makes us take a good hard look at our own commitment to Jesus, and the things that we are, and aren’t, willing to give up for His sake.
Finally if you have been experiencing that same restlessness, dissatisfaction, and sense that there must be ‘much more’, and that you want ‘much more’, then put the terms ‘Vocation Director’ and the name of your nearest regional or capital city into an internet search, and give that person a call.