Gnostic America

Tuesday of Trinity 20: What Should You Do in Your Youth?

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You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ” And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”

Mark adds, “Do not defraud” to his listing of commandments. Matthew and Luke don’t have this addition. That’s another interesting detail Mark adds. Again, this is how Mark is.

Is “defraud” a substitute for coveting, the missing commandment in the list? To defraud is to take something by deception. Is this perhaps what Martin Luther was thinking when he explained the ninth commandment on coveting as, we should not “scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house”?

If that’s the case, there’s an interesting line of thinking we can pursue. St. Paul several times says covetousness is idolatry. How do we take something by deception in idolatry? Well, we certainly take something that rightly belongs to God by a certain self-deception. We ascribe something to the deity that is nothing more than a projection of our covetous desires, and thereby take our Lord’s management and ownership of His own Person. Our Lord says, “I am the Lord and this is how I ‘do’ Me.” We deceptively say, “This is the Lord,” and that god is really a projected “me,” fully managed and owned by me.

Matthew has a slight divergence as well. He replaces the “covet” commandments with “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That may not have been a replacement so much as a summary of all the second table.

Whatever the case, Jesus lists the commandments in answer to the man’s question, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” In Matthew He adds, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

But, Jesus just got done saying “No one is good.” Can non-good people keep the commandments? It would seem not. As Moses preached, “Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.”

What then? Again we’re dealing with a “new wine not contained by old wineskins” scenario. Like the lawyer (Good Samaritan), the nine lepers, and the widow (Jesus Raises the Widow’s Son), the man who runs up to Jesus does so in the Old Testament world. He asks an Old Testament question, and Jesus begins with him there, giving him an Old Testament answer. “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” This is what the Lord taught through Moses as well, “And the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day.”

And the man was truly an Old Testament man. He kept the commandments from his youth. Some would say evidence of this keep obedience was his wealth. Isn’t that how it works? Do what is right, and the Lord will bless you?

Perhaps not. Because now we see how things begin to break down. When the man answers Jesus about keeping all the commandments from his youth, he drops the “good” from his title of Jesus. Instead of addressing Jesus as “Good Teacher,” he just says, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”

So, where the man began with such possibilities – perhaps he recognized Jesus as the only good one, as God in flesh, as the only one who could truly fulfill the Law for us! – that lead goes cold right quick. He corrects himself according to a blindness regarding Jesus’ divinity and drops the “good.” Jesus is “good” enough to be a teacher, but nothing more. He’s just a means to an end for this man, a wise teacher to help him on his path, a good guru, a motivational guide. Jesus gave him a chance. He failed.

Here’s another contextual element lurking in the background. Just prior to this text, Jesus taught about the little children. He says, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

Little children should be coming to Jesus, receiving the kingdom and entering into it – this contextual detail provides some explanation for Jesus’ address of the disciples as “children” in a bit. Yet, what was the man doing as a little child? Keeping the commandments from his youth. One model of salvation says, “Be brought to Jesus.” The other model of salvation says, “Get cracking.”

Not getting called good anymore… rejecting the “be brought to Jesus” model for a “You can do it on your own” model… if I were Jesus I’d feel a bit slighted. And yet Jesus loved him. Why? Well, the man was earnest. He was humble. He was a Hebrew in whom was no guile.

But He was blind to the new wine standing before him. Perhaps better put, the old wineskins that he was was about to disintegrate as the new wine was poured into him. Jesus does such things to those he loves. He kills, that He might bring to life.

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