Luke 18:18-30

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother.’”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Luke 18:18-30; compare Matthew 19:16-29 and Mark 10:17-30)

I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on this story a lot recently through a lengthy conversation with a close friend. We disagreed on what was more central to Jesus: I believe that to Jesus the ruler’s heart and actions were equally important, whereas for my friend, the ruler’s heart alone was the most important. This relates, I think, to a more fundamental disagreement about what Jesus was teaching.

Much of Jesus’ teaching ministry was devoted to explaining and interpreting Torah and calling Israel to a new faithfulness to it.1 If one does not understand Torah, one cannot understand Jesus’ teachings. To begin with, the phrase “eternal life” has an important background in Moses’ preaching:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love Yahweh your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and Yahweh your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. (Deuteronomy 30:15-16)

So when the young ruler asks what he must to inherit eternal life, Jesus says, “You know the commandments.”2 The ruler responds that he has kept all these, but Jesus reminds him of the command to care for the poor, littered throughout Torah.3 This was the “one thing” he still “lacked.”

Jesus was deeply concerned about the young man’s obedience, though certainly his heart needed to be in the right place as well. (This is the reason Jesus constantly railed on the Pharisees, who were obedient but had polluted hearts.) Both remain important: faith and obedience. That simple, literal obedience concerns Jesus here becomes clear in Peter’s response to the encounter. He doesn’t point out that he has a purer (less idolatrous) heart or a better faith than the rich ruler, but rather that he is more obedient: “We have left all we had to follow you!”

1Interestingly, this is what the Pharisees were up to as well. Though for Jesus, there was one important distinction: He was also calling Israel to faithfulness to Himself. Faithfulness to God involves faithfulness to His commands and vice versa.
2The “kingdom of God” also has a broad basis in Torah: Genesis 17:6; Exodus 19:6; Numbers 23:21; Deuteronomy 17:14-20; compare 1 Samuel 8.
3See Exodus 23:6,10-11; Leviticus 19:10; 25:8-54; Deuteronomy 15:1-11; 24:10-22.

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Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

This is a pretty familiar story, but it struck me afresh today in light of the extended reflection I just wrote on loving one’s neighbour. Jesus here intentionally, and even forcefully, enters the life of the other, for He says, “I must stay at your house today.” Jesus very willingly enters the dynamic process of Zacchaeus’ life, and very quickly succeeds at redeeming and reorienting his heart. Suddenly, Zacchaeus’ whole perspective shifts, and a deep concern for the poor and justice emerges. Zacchaeus has encountered—or rather, been encountered by—God in flesh and blood and has come out the other side deeply affected, deeply changed. This is a result of the dynamic nature of our relationship with God. It is not God who changes in this relationship, but because God is infinite life, infinitely dynamic yet unchanging, we are profoundly changed in the encounter. God hunts us. He desires to have us and He will have us, and this is because of His great love for us.

Luke 13:10-16

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath from what bound her?”

I’m not sympathetic to the Pharisees and other “hypocrites,” but I identify with them because there are probably so many ways in which my own religiosity conflicts with the heart of Jesus. The synagogue ruler in this story was simply attempting to be faithful to Torah by following a popular interpretation of it, but by doing so he, probably unintentionally, was being disobedient to God. Especially while talking about the Sabbath, I wonder in what ways do my interpretations of what to do and not to do when conflict with the heart of Jesus? Are there certain things that I routinely do or fail to do on the Sabbath that are hypocritical, that fail God, that leave sons and daughters of Abraham bound? Is the Sabbath a day simply for public worship and rest, or should it be a day of justice, for releasing the oppressed? Shouldn’t we work to see the world “set free on the Sabbath from what bound them”?