Bonhoeffer on the Rich Young Ruler

Although Bonhoeffer approaches the story of the rich young ruler from a different perspective than I do, his commentary is both insightful and desperately challenging. You can find and compare my thoughts here.

If, as we read our Bibles, we heard Jesus speaking to us in this way to-day we should probably try to argue ourselves out of it like this: “It is true that the demand of Jesus is definite enough, but I have to remember that he never expects us to take his commands legalistically. What he really wants me to have is faith. But my faith is not necessarily tied up with riches or poverty or anything of the kind. We may be both poor and rich in the spirit. It is not important that I should have no possessions, but if I do I must keep them as though I had them not, in other words I must cultivate a spirit of inward detachment, so that my heart is not in my possessions.” Jesus may have said: “Sell thy goods,” but he meant: “Do not let it be a matter of consequence to you that you have outward prosperity; rather keep your goods quietly, having them as if you had them not. Let not your heart be in your goods.”—We are excusing ourselves from single-minded obedience to the word of Jesus on the pretext of legalism and a supposed preference for an obedience “in faith.” The difference between ourselves and the rich young man is that he was not allowed to solace his regrets by saying: “Never mind what Jesus says, I can still hold on to my riches, but in a spirit of inner detachment. Despite my inadequacy I can take comfort in the thought that God has forgiven me my sins and can have fellowship with Christ in faith.” But no, he went away sorrowful. Because he would not obey, he could not believe. In this the young man was quite honest. He went away from Jesus and indeed this honesty had more promise than any apparent communion with Jesus based on disobedience. (The Cost of Discipleship, pp.79-80)

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