What Good Thing?

In yesterday’s daily Bible reading, the rich young ruler asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matt 19:16). It seems he thought that there was ONE THING that he needed to do that he had not done that would secure his salvation. He had done all the hard stuff-- he had followed the Law and kept all the traditions of the fathers from his youth. Maybe he was afraid that he had left one critical commandment unfulfilled; maybe he just wanted to hear Jesus to tell him that he was doing everything perfectly. Jesus' answer must have shocked him; the one thing that he needed to do was EVERYTHING. While he had kept the externals, his heart did not really belong to God. That is what he needed to give.

It is so easy to focus on the externals markers of religion that we forget that God's x-ray eyes look through eternals all the way to our hearts. The greatest command He gives us is love-- to love God and love others. If we focus only on the external things of religion, then we miss the one thing God real wants from us-- our hearts. There is a difference between doing religious thingsand falling in love with what is right and the One who is our righteousness. Fred Peatross sums it up like this--

The Pharisees were a deeply religious people willing to make themselves miserable for the cause. They fasted every Monday and Thursday. Possibly this had something to do with the fact that Mondays and Thursdays were market days. When the Pharisees fasted everybody in the community knew it. Their fasting became theater. They put on a benefit performance—for their own benefit.

When they gave they ignored the cultural/biblical idea of giving in secret. Figuratively speaking, they blew their horn just before they gave so everyone would notice their generosity.

Because the Jewish religion prayed every day at 9:00 and 12:00 and 3:00 the Pharisee developed a pious reputation for their frequent and long prayers. Interestingly, they made sure they were in the marketplace at those very hours. If they couldn't be in the marketplace they found the top step of the synagogue the next best place to be.

Jesus wasn't opposed to giving, fasting, or praying but he was bothered by self-righteous people. And Jesus makes the point that our righteousness must exceed the outward religion of the Pharisees.

A man who worked with alcoholics for over twenty years wrestled with why some people abstain from liquor for several years and then fall off the wagon, yet others quit and never return to the bottle. He concluded that some people become abstainers and others fall in love with sobriety. Abstainers are always in danger of going back; for them quitting is a matter of reform. For lovers of the sobriety it is a matter of the spirit.

The difference between abstaining from drinking and loving sobriety is the same as the difference between being religious and loving God.