The man who held on tight

In Matthew 19, we meet a rich young man who turns away from eternal life because of his desire for temporary things. In the Message, it says “he was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.”

It would be easy to look at this questioning young man and judge him for his inability to see past the end of his own clenched hands. I would love to simply dismiss him as a walk-on part in the script of the Bible, not teaching me anything important and certainly not a true reflection of anything in my own heart.

But today I’d like to take a walk with him instead.

He approaches me along the road, wearing tidy robes that were obviously tailored just for him, and he smiles at me. His kind smile feels like an invitation to join him on his journey, so I do. We nod at each other and share names. Pleasantries are spoken as we continue our walk along the dusty road. He is a gentle man with an impeccable, humble life. The love he shares with his new wife is inspiring, and his devotion to God’s law surprises me. I am overjoyed to meet someone who follows all of Moses’ commandments with such joy.

He rubs his nose with the side of his hand, fist clenched around something that I cannot see. His hand is quickly replaced into the folds of his robe and we continue our journey. Twice more he pulls his closed fists out of his robe, and twice more he replaces them without allowing me a glimpse of what he is holding so tightly.

My mind burns with the possibilities, but I don’t ask. As we walk, he tells me about his childhood: the constant gnawing in his belly, the clothes with more holes than fabric, and sound of his parents screaming at each other for the whole neighbourhood to hear. With eyes shining with pride, he shares the story of how he pulled himself out of poverty through hard work, determination, and God’s blessing on his life. His wife is expecting their first child and he has sworn never to let his own children live in such want and shame.

I gesture at the road. “Where are we walking?”

“I go to meet the rabbi, Yeshua. It is said that he knows the way to eternal life.”

“Isn’t eternal life found by following God’s laws?”

“Yes…but I want to ensure that I haven’t missed any laws.”

We fall into a meditative silence, and I spend several moments considering his comment. Is it possible to have gained the whole world by following God’s laws, but have missed out on something along the way?

When we hear the clamour of people up ahead, we know that we have reached the rabbi.

My new friend taps the shoulder of someone in the back of the crowd, who turns to look at him. A quick glimpse of his robes and clean smell and friendly smile and the man in the crowd makes way for my friend to pass through. I follow in his wake, right up to the front.

The rabbi, Yeshua, looks at my friend, smiling. He nods at my friend.

He breathes in deeply through his nose, and asks his question: “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” After asking his question, his eyes widen, like a puppy awaiting approval.

Yeshua said, “Why do you question me about what’s good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.”

My friend looks at me as if to say I knew there was more, then turns back to the rabbi. “What in particular?”

Yeshua said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself.”

With a sigh, my friend smiles and shrugs, “I’ve done all that. What’s left?”

“If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Yeshua replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.”

His response is but a breath, but we all hear the word as if it was thunder from heaven. “No.” His still-clenched fists come up to his face, not in aggression, but in panic. His bites his thumbnail and stares at the ground. Yeshua gently takes one of the fists in his hands and stares at him sorrowfully.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Wresting his fist away from Yeshua, my friend turns and walks back into the crowd. I don’t want to leave, but I can’t leave him alone in this moment.

Pushing through the crowd, I catch up and touch his arm. “Friend, what is in your hand? What are you holding onto so tightly?”

Red, watery eyes look into mine, and he holds up his fist.

He whispers one last word before turning away and leaving me alone on the path.

“Fear.”

____________

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