Do we professing Christians today face the same discomfort and conviction experienced by the Rich Young Ruler who is told to sell all that he has and give to the poor and follow Jesus? Like the rich ruler, do we lack trust in the commandments we profess to keep?
The story of the Rich Young Ruler immediately follows the scene of Jesus calling the little children to him. He takes the moment to teach, "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:17) Dependent children cannot but trust and receive from the one who provides for them. Fr. Dustin Lyon, host of The Way, contrasts the trusting children with the Rich Young Ruler, reminding us of the call to seek the treasures of heaven found in obedience to the instruction we receive.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. I'm so happy to welcome Fr. Dustin Lyon, priest of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in DeKalb, Illinois. He's also the host and producer of The Way podcast on the Ephesus School Network. Welcome, Fr. Dustin, so great to be talking with you today.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 0:35
Thank you for having me. I'm glad to be here.
Hollie Benton 0:37
Fr. Dustin, today we're going to be talking about that difficult passage commonly referred to as the Rich Young Ruler, which we can find in the Gospel of Matthew and also the Gospel of Luke, which we will be focusing on today. I don't know about you, Fr. Dustin, but every time I read or hear, "One thing that you lack, sell all you have and give to the poor. . ." It's happening now! my throat goes a little dry, and I find it hard to swallow. So here's a guy who claims to have followed all the commandments since his youth. Jesus doesn't argue with him. Really, you've kept all the commandments? That's no small feat. Jesus instead points out that even though the ruler has checked all the boxes in keeping the commandments and has accumulated many things, and much wealth, he still comes up short. He still lacks something. And what he lacks is treasure in heaven. Jesus suggests that if he sells what he owns, and gives it to the poor, that he will gain treasure in heaven. It's one of those rich, amazing paradoxes that we find throughout Scripture. And I think it reflects the types of paradoxical decisions we often have to make in our own leadership responsibilities. Like the words of St. John the Baptist, "I must decrease so that thou might increase," and understanding that what truly matters will be gained through God's provision if we make the necessary sacrifice the Lord asks of us in the moment. In this case, the rich young ruler lacks because he does not give, but he will gain something that really counts if he loses what he has now. It's a story of judgment for all of us who profess to be Christian. Are we really willing to put our effort, our energy, and our money into the Lord's mission? Or are we merely just storing up wealth for ourselves, trusting not in the Lord's provision, but in the provision of our own hands?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 2:31
Yeah, I think that's an excellent observation about this passage that it comes down to oftentimes, we like to translate the word in Greek pistis as faith, but it can also be translated as trust, or loyalty. And so there's this aspect that you have to trust the master, in this case, Jesus, you have to trust that what he's teaching is true, and that he's going to lead you on the right path. Or as I would say, on my podcast, he's going to lead you on the correct way. And that trust, if you also translate it as loyalty, it means you're obeying what he says, and not what others say. And that also becomes a distinction in this passage, there is the trust, or the loyalty to what Christ is teaching, and how we are to use our possessions according to scripture. Or you can trust in what secular society says about power and wealth and fame and fortune, all those things, and you can trust in that. But you can't be loyal or trust in both. And so this rich young ruler, there's a paradox here, he's got to make a choice. Who is he going to follow? Is he going to follow the ways of the world? Or is he going to follow the path that is set forth by Christ here?
Hollie Benton 3:39
All right. So let's just jump in today's reading, starting with verse 15 in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18. "People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not stop them. For it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.' A certain ruler asked him, 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good, but God alone. You know the commandments. You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.' He replied, 'I have kept all these since my youth.' When Jesus heard this, he said to him, 'There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow me.' But when he heard this, he became very sad, for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, 'How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. Indeed, it is easier for him to go through the eye of a needle, than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.' Those who heard it said, 'Then who can be saved?' He replied, 'What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.'" We started this reading with verse 15, to provide a bit of context, because we hear the story of the rich ruler tie back to Jesus calling for the little children to come to Him. Jesus says, "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And yet, I don't know if the rich young ruler thinks this doesn't apply to him, because he immediately asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Isn't it enough to be as a little child to receive the kingdom? Jesus doesn't say anything about what to do to earn the kingdom, to purchase the kingdom, to be good enough. The kingdom is a gift, he says be as a little child to receive it. So is the rich ruler just charming the teacher and wants to show off all that he knows, acting like a little bit of a keener? The rich ruler indeed does tie back to the children because he pronounces, "I have kept all these commandments since my youth."
Fr. Dustin Lyon 6:11
So to answer your question, is the rich ruler just charming the teacher and wants to show off? The answer is essentially, yes, that's what he's doing. He's saying, Look at me! Look at me! I'm a good boy, you know, I passed all the tests in Sunday school, so I must be who you're talking about, right? The genius of the way Luke sets this up is that you see a contrast. And you immediately recognize that the rich young ruler is not who Jesus is talking about. And this is why specifically, I want to start with verse 15 because Jesus is talking about the children. There's something that's really interesting that happens here. And it happens in English. So we don't have to go into the Greek too much here. But it happens in English in the same way it happens in the Greek, it says that people were bringing even infants to him. And then when Jesus responds, he says, Let the children come to me. There's two different words here. There's the infants. And then there's the children. There's two points being made here, I think. And I would emphasize the second one over the first one. But the first one is that infants or children in general, are dependent. Infants especially would not survive on their own. They're dependent on a parent that's looking after them. And so there's a sense of vulnerability here, going back to our previous discussion, that those infants can do nothing but trust. The parent has to feed them and the infant has no choice but to trust that the parent will feed them, give them housing and take care of them and bring them up and instruct them, all those sorts of things. So there's that sense, that's happening in the passage. The second sense, and this is the one I would emphasize, specifically in this context. And I think it goes well, with the Doulos program, especially, and this is why I think this passage is relevant here for the Doulos leadership program. When Jesus changes the word from infant to children, he's also bringing in a different context. The word for children in Greek could mean children, the little ones that run around. And indeed, that's the original sense. But it's also the word that they would have used for slaves, that you would call your slaves oftentimes children. You know, the American South, in a derogatory way, would do this with their slaves. So it's not uncommon, we kind of have this sense in English as well. But when he says, Let the little children come to me and do not stop them, it's almost in a sense, you could hear, let my slaves come to me. I'm the master, my servants, my slaves, let them come to me. Don't stop my servants coming to me. They come to me because I'm the master. And I'm calling them and they're being obedient to the instruction that I'm giving. And I think this is precisely why it's important to start with these first few verses, because you have that set up right away, both these people who are dependent on God, and these people who recognize Jesus as their master specifically. So you have that context right away. And then starting in verse 18, it says right away, a certain ruler asked him. Now in Greek, the word for ruler here is archon. And so those in the Greek Archdiocese will recognize that word right away, because there's the Order of St. Andrew, which protects the Ecumenical Patriarchate, those people who are inducted into the Order are called Archons. And so we're used to that. But an archon literally means, in this sense, in the first century, it was a ruler of a specific area. And so you have right away this contrast between these children, especially if you're thinking of them as servants or slaves, contrast between them, and then there's this ruler. And of course, a ruler would be set up as another master, right away. There's a clashing of kingdoms. You have Christ's kingdom and his people, you know, God's children. And then you have this secular ruler, who is setting himself up as a master and he's reinforcing that, you know, with his own possessions and his own wealth and his own power. So you have a clash of kingdoms happening right off from the bat. That's why I started with this earlier verse to get that contrast right away.
Hollie Benton 10:12
Right. You know, this passage also makes me think of a time when my own daughter Kalista was turning two maybe three years old. And of course, you know, a little birthday party we're having for her. And there were people young and old, putting gifts in her lap, and just smiling and just finding so much joy and pleasure in giving her gifts. And one little girl that was close to her age really took an interest in the very special pretty doll that grandma had given to her. And Kali, in the similar fashion of people putting gifts in her lap, took the doll and put the gift in her friend's lap and said, Here, take it. And then they were getting ready to leave,my daughter made it a big point, she wanted the doll to go with her friend. And being her mother and knowing that the doll was given from my mother, and of course you protect what's in your own family, and what will grandma think? But I thought, No, if she has the impulse to give as she has been given, why not? Why not let her go ahead and give the doll away? I think it kind of illustrates the pleasure that God has in providing for each of us yet, you know, we're so reluctant to give generously, just as God has provided for us.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 11:27
Yeah, and I think that takes us to the Doulos program and the leadership as an emphasis in this podcast. So you have the one sense of, we have to understand who the master is. And so when we lead, we have to be following the instruction that's been given to us. And that's foundational to talk about servant leadership. That's foundational, that we're following our master. In our case, as Christians, this is the instruction found in Scripture. And then I think the second thing is the point that you're making with your daughter, which I think is spot on, that as leaders, we don't own or possess anything. We're simply stewards, right? God's the master, and he's the one that actually possesses everything. And all we are is good stewards, good stewardship. And I think that's a key role that leaders have to recognize, whether you're leading a business or whether you're leading a church, whatever organization or event or whatever it is you're doing, you're just a steward for the time being. And the idea is that hopefully, you can pass it on to the next generation. And I think in a church community setting, you're just a steward of the instruction. You know, I don't want people to start thinking church buildings and capitals stuff, because that's not the point of the assembly of the Church, but you're a steward of the instruction. And you need to pass this on to the next generation, so that they can pass it on to the generation after them. And if you hoard it, like this archon, this ruler is hoarding his possessions, it does no one any good. And your daughter learned that, rather than holding on to a possession, said, I think it's better for me to form this relationship with my friend and love my neighbor, as we would say, scripturally. I think it's better to do that than for me to hold on to this possession, which was a hard lesson for you as a parent, right?
Yes, absolutely. Yes.
You were thinking, Oh, this is in the family, it was given by my mother. You know, that love that she was shown by her grandmother, she's passing that on to her friend, which is really the point of gift giving, right? When you think about it, it's really not about the item, right? It's about the relationship that the item helps to form.
Hollie Benton 13:26
Right. You know, it's fascinating, too, in thinking about the commandment, passing along the instruction. He had kept the instruction since his youth. Was he really passing it on? Was he sharing the instruction?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 13:41
I think the real question is, was he really keeping the commandments? He thinks he was, he was checking off all the boxes, saying I've done this, I've done this, I've done this. But we also know when Jesus summarizes the law, in other places, he says the first commandment is to love God. And the second commandment is to love your neighbor. That's the sum, you know, if you're summing up the law, that's what it is. And so these other things that you're looking at, should be in service to that overall thesis or the overall theme. The Sermon on the Mount deals with these right? You can not commit adultery, but are you looking at others in lust? You can not commit murder, but do you have anger in your heart? Okay, I haven't murdered any of my co-workers or you know, my neighbors. But maybe I'm showing a lot of contempt and and making their lives awful. Because I'm angry at them. You got to step back and say, okay, am I really following the commandment? Or am I just kind of checking off a box and saying, Yeah, okay, you know, he's still six feet above ground.
Hollie Benton 14:38
Right. Or even the first commandment, I am the Lord your God, You shall have no other gods before me. And if he was sad about what Christ instructed him to do, perhaps he did have other gods before him.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 14:50
And that one is missing in this list. If you'll notice, because he doesn't list all of the 10 commandments as we know them, it's just a few of them starting with You shall not commit adultery. Missing is the commandments about God and loving God. And so I think you're right. Again, I think this is why they use the word archon here. And then why it follows that passage about the children is that he has made another god for himself. And that becomes obvious when Jesus says, well use your possessions to serve God and give it to those in need. And he can't do that. Why? Because those possessions have become his god.
Hollie Benton 15:24
So for people who have some kind of leadership responsibility at work, teachers at school, civic duty, even some sort of leadership responsibility in that church, clergy or parish council, choir director, what would be one way that people could keep this passage in their mind as they think about the trust and about the instruction and about not hoarding it and giving it to the next generation?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 15:49
It comes, especially in leadership positions, when you have to make decisions, or when you're specifically dealing with people. I fight this within myself, sometimes I have to step back and think, okay, am I making a decision because that's what I want, when we're making a decision that's the best for the community. Again, the New Testament was written by community oriented people. As Americans, we're individually oriented. Are you making decisions as best for the community or what you want to make your life easier? If you're the choir director, and you're thinking, Okay, I really don't want to have choir practice, you know, on Wednesday nights, because Wednesday night, you know, it's getting dark now that Winter's coming, and I don't want to go out in the cold. And it'd just be easier to do something very briefly after church during coffee hour or something like that. And you think, well, that's what I want. But does this community or do those in the choir need that extra practice and guidance in order to be able to sing the liturgy properly? And should I sacrifice my nice warm cup of hot cocoa and sitting in front of Netflix on a Wednesday night, and instead, drag my rear end to the church and do a choir practice so that people can be edified and actually learn the music? So I mean, that's just an example. But it's all sorts of things, especially when it comes down to buildings. I think that's another thing, that people like to see their names. They like to build something physical, as their legacy. Look at what I donated to the church or look what we built. We built this nice temple with all this beautiful iconography. And we have wonderful candlesticks and incensors and all those sorts of things. But is that really the best for the community, to have a nice building? Or could that money best be served and by building strong ministries that go out into the community to serve whatever needs the community has? Would that be perhaps a better way, a better use of the talents and treasure that we've been entrusted to through our stewardship? I mean, it's things like that constantly. You got to just keep reminding yourself, are we being the rich young ruler and hoarding our own possessions, because that's what we want, and it helps our legacy? Or are we actually using what's been entrusted to us to build the kingdom?
Hollie Benton 17:56
Yeah, building not by mortar, but by mission. Mission to what has been instructed, to what has been handed down in the Gospel. Thank you, Father, Dustin, great conversation today and I hope we will have more of these in the future as well.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 18:09
Absolutely. I look forward to it. Thank you for having me.
Hollie Benton 18:12
Thank you, Fr. Dustin
Transcribed by https://otter.ai