As we wrap up this look at the rich young man, we have to take a moment and give credit where credit is due. For all that he had going for him in this world, and for all the things this product of the Pharisees thought he had right, for whatever reason, he did come and ask Jesus a question about just how right he was getting it.
It's easy for us to say that his question was about his pride, that he really just wanted to be affirmed in front of the crowds, to show off his wealth in one more way and to add to it the approval of the public's so-called great Rabbi. Maybe.
But maybe not. Maybe that's just our self-centered, wealth-centered, head-shaking Western eyes reading into the narrative something that seems so natural to so many of us. Maybe this man whose faith was so deeply rooted in the law honestly just wanted to make sure he knew the depth of the law, that his faith was grounded well and correctly in it.
We still say, well, that's the wrong question to ask. Faith is not about the law! There's something in us looking for every rhyme and reason to write this man off, even though Jesus clearly did not.
I think we need to give him credit for the question. I think we need to give him credit for coming to Jesus in front of everyone and asking, hey, am I getting this right? I'm doing all of the things that I think I'm supposed to be doing; am I forgetting something? Did I miss something somewhere? What can You, Rabbi, teach me that I have not yet learned about this life-giving law?
For to the rich young man, the law was, indeed, life-giving. It was the heart of his whole faith.
And let's be honest - it's not a question a lot of us would ask.
Most of us are pretty content with our faith. It's growing, we hope, but it's growing in a predictable direction according to what we already know. We know what is important to us, what is important (we think) to God, how this whole "faith" thing works, and we're busy living it. We're busy trying to make it all that it can be according to what we believe about our believing.
It doesn't occur to us to take a step back and ask Jesus what He thinks. It doesn't occur to us that there might be something in our faith that we're missing. It's our faith, after all, and it's our faith because it's meaningful for us. If it's meaningful for us, it must somehow be whole for us. It must be all that we're desiring it to be or it wouldn't be so meaningful. So we must be already getting it "right." What, exactly, is there to ask?
And here's what we should love about the exchange between the rich young man and the Rabbi - the young man doesn't ask, "Hey, I've based my entire faith on the law. Is that cool?" Rather, he asks, "Hey, I've based my entire faith on the law. Am I living that faith to its fullest?" Jesus, likewise, does not respond, "You fool! Faith is not about the law." Rather, He responds, "You're missing the heart of the law in your living."
Sometimes, I think we don't ask the question because we're scared that God is going to scrap the whole thing, throw it all out and make us start over, strip us down to nothing and make us stand naked in the public square. The Gospels make clear that that's just not the case, and this story of the rich young man is only further confirmation. For Jesus responds here with gentle grace, just as He responds to us.
So give credit where credit is due. The rich young, arrogant, law-abiding, Pharisee-tutored man at least asks the question.
And that's far more than most of us are willing to do.