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Moneybags felt empty

Jesus & Co

An old proverb claims that ‘a man is known by the company he keeps’. If true, the people Jesus met can offer insight into his character and world view, as Nigel Bovey investigates

The Samaritan Woman (John 4:1–26)

Powerful people are used to getting their own way

SOME people, and classes of people, seem to have a natural ability to intim­idate others. A snappy dresser can make us feel scruffy. A brainbox can make us feel thick. A moneybags can leave us feel­ing inadequate.

Jesus was once approached by a man who appeared to have it all. He was rich. He had youth on his side. He was a boss. A somebody. People did what he said. Money and position bought him access. But Jesus was not intimidated.

The ruler asked him: ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ (Luke 18:18 New Internationl Version).

Jesus reminded him of the Ten Commandments (at least, the five that apply to the treatment of people): do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony and honour your father and mother (see 18:20).

No problem, the ruler told Jesus, perhaps thinking that he was clearly a shoo-in for the Kingdom Jesus kept talking about. He knew he kept his nose clean and didn’t do anyone any harm. So far, so good.

He told Jesus: ‘All these I have kept since I was a boy’ (18:21).

Powerful people are used to having their own way. But Jesus was not going to com­promise his message. Good living is not enough to get anyone into Heaven. Nobody can earn their way into the Kingdom. When it comes to God, the man with the world at his feet has hands that are empty.

Jesus knew that the man’s strength was also his weakness. He told him: ‘You still lack one thing.’ He sets him a test: ‘Sell everything you have and give to the poor … Then come, follow me’ (18:22).

Ouch! The ruler hadn’t seen that one coming. So near, yet so far.

‘When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy’ (18:23).

Having money was not the issue. The problem was that the man had invested his hopes of eternal salvation in the wrong thing. The eternal life he was seeking is something that money cannot buy.

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