Posted by: mattcolvin | November 22, 2011

Luke 18:17-30: ”What must I **DO**?”

Wednesday of the 22nd Week after Trinity: Luke 18:17-30.

This is the story of the rich young ruler. Note that he does not ask how to earn the life of the age to come, but how to inherit it (κληρονομήσω). Now inheritance requires someone to inherit from. Who? I would suggest that YHWH is the father from whom the sons of the age to come inherit it. This is not a pelagian question. It is a good, Jewish two-age eschatology question: the ruler is asking how he can become a son of God and share in the life of the new creation. Just a little later in Luke, Jesus will answer the Sadducees with similar language: “But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (Luke 20:35, 36 NKJV)”

It is all about loyalty to YHWH, and Jesus’ pointing to the commandments of the Torah is not an attempt to trip him up. Obedience to Torah had always been the distinguishing behavior of Israelites who were faithful to YHWH. An Israelite’s loyalty to God had always meant loyalty to Torah. Now, it means even more, however: it means loyalty to Jesus.

The rich young ruler fails that test. His wealth is in this age, not the age to come, and he is more loyal to that wealth than he is to Jesus. If you’re reading the REC lectionary with me, you will not have missed the connection with Ecclesiastes 6, which speaks in pathetic terms of the folly of chasing riches, which do not last and give no satisfaction.

We really must stop acting as though Jesus rebuffs the ruler’s assumption that he needs to do something to gain the inheritance of life in the age to come. Far from it. Jesus gives him another thing to do. Why? Because, to use my polemical paraphrase of Romans 10:17, “Faithfulness comes by obeying.” If you would follow Jesus, you must obey Him.

Peter protests that he and the other disciples “have left everything to follow you.” Jesus does not rebuff him with a correction about how such works are nothing but filthy rags, and what matters is having an idle faith that is very alone in your heart, resting and receiving. No, Jesus affirms Peter’s loyalty that has been demonstrated in his works, and assures him with His usual oath that, “there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (18:29-30) Far from correcting Peter’s soteriology, Jesus affirms it. There is no division between faith and works here.



  1. He tells the people that devotion to Himself must be so wholehearted that even attachment to parents and to other members of one’s family must not be allowed to stand in the way. Clearly the meaning of the word hate in the Lucan passage is to love less. In all things Christ must always have the preeminence (Col 1:18). That the word hate in Luke 14:26 cannot have the meaning which we generally attach to it is clear also from the fact that Jesus tells us to love even our enemies (Matt 5:44). What the Savior demands in Luke 14:26 and other passages is complete devotion, the type of loyalty that is so true and unswerving that every other attachment, even to one’s own life must be subjected to it. If a person is unwilling to tender that unconditional devotion, then says Jesus, ‘he cannot be My disciple’ (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), pp. 734-735).

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