“Christ and the Rich Young Ruler” is a painting by the German Heinrich Hofmann.
Two things about that work strike me. The first is how Hofmann tells the story in the eyes.
Jesus looks intently at the young ruler, His eyes filled with love and sadness.
The young man is unable to meet the Master’s gaze or to look upon the beggars with their desperate eyes.
The second is that those beggars are around the corner behind Jesus. The young man’s head is facing another direction, unwilling to turn that corner in his life.
We know the story. The young man asks Jesus what he must do to enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus reminds him of the commandments, the “shall nots,” and honoring mother and father.
The young man says he has kept them, but Jesus insists he is lacking “one thing.” He tells the seeker to sell all that he has and give the money to the poor.
That’s a deal-breaker for someone fond of the life all those riches afford.
Watching the man walk away, Jesus lamented, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
That never bothered me until I saw children passing around a baby as a begging prop, visited a home of reeds and salvaged tin, or shared a meal of rice and weak broth.
I never saw myself as rich, but I was a Buffett or Bezos compared to them.
I thought more about the rich young man. What if his story had been different? What if he changed his mind, decided to liquidate, and gave it all to the poor?
I can imagine him coming back to Jesus: “Commandments? Check! Money to the poor? Check! So where’s my ticket to the kingdom?”
Jesus says to him, “There is still one thing that you lack. Go and live this new life for a while.”
A few months later, the rich young man reported to Jesus.
“I miss many things, but I’ve come to love the poor as peers and friends. We struggle together, celebrate together, and care for each other. None of us could make it alone.”
“And the kingdom of God?” Jesus asked.
“I’m already there,” the young man replied.
So maybe it never was about the commandments, or even the money.
To love is to believe, and to believe is to practice.