The Rich Young Ruler

The rich young ruler is a very popular story that has attracted the attention of the masses ever since its mention in the scriptures. Preachers and teachers alike have devoted countless minutes to its lessons and applications that they in turn can provide to their respective religious groups or bodies. While the story itself is of much value, what we want to consider in the following paragraphs is more of a structural view of the linguistic literature itself and what we can learn from it. 

1. Asks the right question: “What Shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:16; Mk. 10:17; Lk. 18:18)

The scriptures do not expound much on the background of this young ruler save for the fact that he is a man in a position of authority. Immediately upon his interaction with our Lord, he presents a striking question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:16)? The nature of his question immediately solicits the attention of Jesus and His followers. It is not a misguided or wayward one but rather it is one that seems rather desperate and valuable to the ruler. He seems to understand what it is (eternal life) and he wants to know what he must do to achieve it. The beginning structure of the story demonstrates that he has asked the right question. Many people have had the opportunity to approach Jesus and interact with him and even ask him questions, but they asked wrongly (ex. Pharisees). This young man has approached Jesus and did what few people thought to do.

 2. Asks the right way: “…ran up to Him and knelt before Him” (Mk. 10:17)

Only Mark’s gospel account illustrates the manner in which the ruler approached Jesus. The text emphasizes that he ran up to Jesus and knelt before Him. This aptly indicates his desire to have his question answered while denoting a sense of urgency and importance. The manner in which he approached Jesus indicates a level of respect for Him (probably having heard of Jesus) but also illustrates the sense of urgency he possesses that his important question be answered. He is rather desperate looking to Jesus for help. Jesus has been the constant source of help and healing in all the gospel accounts and this man recognizes that and seeks out Jesus. 

3. Asks the right person: “Good Teacher” referring to Jesus (Matt. 19:16-17; Mk. 10:17-18; Lk. 18:18-19)

Consider that this is a man in a position of authority. There are quite a few examples in the gospels of men serving in a position of authority yet seeking out Jesus for answers to their needs (Matt. 8:5-13; 9:18-19, 23-25; Jn. 3:1-21). The point of these illustrations including the rich young ruler is that though they have power and authority to a certain extent, they still need Jesus and His words. The way the young man addresses Jesus invites us to ponder on the phrase he said (“Good Teacher”). Jesus asks the young man if he knows what he is saying by using that phrase. “Good” was commonly equated with God in the Old Testament and His nature in inherently good. Jesus is not seeking to deny that He is indeed good (Jn. 10:11, 14), but rather He seeks to draw our attention to the everlasting reality that no matter who we are, we are all in desperate need of Him! If we have any hope of receiving “good” then we must turn to Jesus as this young ruler did. It does not matter what our jobs are or how important we are. We must humble ourselves and come to Jesus.

4. Makes the wrong decision: “…when he had heard these things he went away grieving” (Matt. 19:22; Mk. 10:22; Lk. 18:23)

Jesus does not disappoint the young man and He answers his questions (Matt. 19:18-21; Mk. 10:19-21; Lk. 18:20-22). As is always the case, there seems to be some sort of expectation on the part of the person asking the question and Jesus’ answer does not meet his expectations. Jesus always spoke the truth and He spoke righteously. The young man was a seemingly upstanding moral citizen of society, but he loved his property more than he loved God. 

He wanted Jesus to give him a checklist that he could work through and at the end he could have eternal life. When Jesus told the man that it would require a radical change in his lifestyle, he chose to walk away. His response to Jesus’s answer indicates that he did not understand the nature of eternal life (give me a checklist and I’ll get on with life). The literary structure of this story is setting us up for what seems to be a happily ever after ending. He asks the right question in the right way to the right person and so all that’s left is to make the right decision except we are left wanting for that part.

As I said earlier, there are many lessons we could learn from this story. But I think we need to consider a few things based on the questions the rich young ruler was asking. First of all, what kind of questions are we asking? Do we ask questions that seek to make us better or bitter? Secondly, how are we asking these questions? Do we show urgency and deep concern or are we merely apathetic? 

Are we asking questions to the one who can truly help us or do we turn to all the wrong areas and people for help? Only Jesus can truly help us and solve our problems. Finally, when faced with the truth (no matter how painful it might be), are we willing to accept it or do we reject it? Are we willing to swallow our pride and flock to Jesus so that He can rule our lives, guide us and inspire change within us?

Until we are willing to make these changes and these decisions then we will never find the help and solutions to our problems that we so desperately need. So, let’s follow Jesus and cling to Him in order that we may have eternal life.