Jesus gives freedom
He respects our “yes,” but also our “no.” He gives freedom. He invites us: “Come and follow me. Be my beloved friend.”
A young man comes to Jesus (Mark 10:17-22) with all the signs of respect and adoration. He runs up. He knows that if you want to speak to an authority, you must go to him. It needs effort. We all know that to run up is often not enough. You need to see the secretary and get an appointment. That is our world.
He addresses Jesus: “Good teacher!” Here’s a quiet admission: “I am willing to learn from you. You know so much more than I do. Please clear my doubts. Show me the way.” I do not think that this was flattery. The young man is full of real admiration for the Teacher from Galilee. It is as if we would approach a renowned professor, asking for some lessons and good advice. The young man is ready to acknowledge Jesus’ authority.
He asks a very important question, the most important one for anyone to ask. Today, people would phrase it this way: “I do not want to waste my days. I want to find meaning in life. I need to know my individual fulfilment of my time, my talents, my being. My life should not simply be over one day. I want more: eternal life.” We do not ask a child this very personal, intimate question. We would not approach just anyone with a question that has such eternal consequences. The question demands that it be addressed to someone with experience, maturity, and spiritual and moral authority. We would seek out a person who is well acquainted with the passions of today and the promises of tomorrow, and knows the difference between the two. The young man kneels before Jesus. This was unusual at that time, as it is today. It was a sign of highest respect and adoration.
The young man seeks advice
The young man comes to Jesus because he wants something. He feels a need. He would not have come if he were satisfied with his life. He already has a very high position in society. Luke relates that this man was a ruler, probably a member of the High Counsel of Jerusalem, one of the upper class. He was born in a noble house. When he walks in the streets of Jerusalem, many people greet him respectfully. We may also assume that he has enjoyed a good education. Of course, he is rich. A combination of family heritage, social status, religious training, wealth, and recognition has made this young man a person of social dignity and religious distinction.
But for him, that was not enough. He does not only want a good life, he wants to have eternal life. He is honestly seeking God. Of course, he prays regularly, he keeps God’s commandments, he gives his tithe faithfully, and he does not forget the lofty cause of charity. But is that enough? He is not sure. He is aware of his shortcomings. He does not pray: “God, I thank you that I am not like those other people” (Luke 18:11). He asks Jesus: “What shall I do?” Is there any better question? And whom else could he ask? There no better person to address than Jesus.
The young man wants to catch up with Jesus
Who is Jesus to him? Certainly, Jesus is two or three steps ahead. The young man has heard marvellous things about Jesus: that He casts out the demons, heals the sick, cures the lepers, make wine of water, raises the dead, and much more. Jesus could not do such things without being close to God, the young man concludes. Jesus knows what to do in order to come close to God. He knows the way to heaven. The young man wants to know what Jesus knows. He wants to catch up with Jesus. He wants to become like Jesus — as far as possible, at least. What a noble aspiration!
Jesus is different
Jesus rejects the respectful address. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” What a strange reaction!
If I went to my professor with all the signs of respect and asked him an important question, would he not welcome me? If I went to my boss, indicating that I consider her an experienced person, would she not do all she could to justify my expectations? In any case, my question would help them to fulfil their calling.
If I went to my doctor, counsellor, or pastor for advice, they all would like to be addressed respectfully. They all would give something from their treasure of experience and wisdom. And they would feel confirmed in their roles as experts.
This is the game we all play: we make someone feel important and profit from his or her special knowledge or ability. This is what the young man did: he demonstrated his subordination in order to gain something. He was himself a member of high society and was used to receiving honor and giving favor for it. But Jesus did not join in this game. Why not?
Jesus is Lord without making us slaves
Jesus is great, but His greatness is different from the type we are used to. He says: “You know the commandments.” The young man is convinced that Jesus knows more than he does. Jesus could have demonstrated His supremacy: “Very good that you come and ask me! I am the only one who can help.” But Jesus downplays the difference in knowledge. He says: “You know! Find your way!”
In our world, we know of strong personalities. Nobody can grow besides them. But Jesus stimulates growth. He does not constantly seek our weak points. He does not put us in a corner. He reminds us of what we already know. His presence makes us develop our abilities. His greatness is not our ignorance. Jesus provokes learning, He challenges our mind. The mysteries of God’s kingdom do not downgrade us. They lift us up. “In the kingdoms of the world, position meant self-aggrandizement. … The people were expected to believe and practice as their superiors directed. The right of man as man, to think and act for himself, was wholly unrecognized. Christ was establishing a kingdom on different principles. … In Christ’s kingdom there is no lordly oppression, no compulsion of manner.”1
Jesus removes the burden that enslaves us
Jesus says: “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.” The man was shocked. Why? Did he not ask what he should do? If Jesus had said: “Give more money to the poor,” would he not have done it? What was the problem?
The man was young. Possibly, he had not earned his possessions himself, but inherited them together with the good name of the family, with its traditions and its religion. He was responsible for it. The whole clan watched over his money, that it was spent in a way to increase the honor of the family. Thus, what he possessed occupied him, bound him.
Is it not so with us too? What we inherit can bind us, even enslave us. It might not be money, but customs, cherished prejudices, old dichotomies. It can occupy us. Jesus says: give it away.
Other great men of our world would have said: give the money to me. But Jesus does not want the money. He wants the young man to be free.
Jesus gives freedom
The end of the account of the young man is the most astonishing part of the story. The man did not accept the invitation of Jesus. He departed. And what did Jesus do? Nothing. He let him go. I am sure it hurt Him. He loved him. He would have liked to give him eternal life. “Christ looked into the face of the young man, as if reading his life and searching his character. He loved him, and He hungered to give him that peace and grace and joy which would materially change his character.”2 But He let him go. He gave him freedom to choose.
Jesus could have done something: promotion for God’s kingdom, a miracle, brainwashing. He could have sent His disciples to get the man back. He could have frightened him with the last judgment. This is what the leaders of this world do. Their authority is measured by the number of subordinated people. Therefore, they like to increase the number of subjects.
Jesus is different. He let him go. In the world, it is customary to force subordinates into what they should be or should do, but invite friends. Jesus does not want subordinates. He seeks us as friends. He looked at the young man and loved him. He invites him: “Trust me! Be my friend.” Where love is, there is freedom.
Jesus is trustworthy. He does not want us as subjects of his kingship. His interest is not our labor, our thoughts, or our money. He does not make us weak or slavish, saying: “You do not know anything, you cannot do anything, you are not allowed to risk a single step.” He reminds us of what He has already given us. He trusts us to have our own thoughts, our own decisions. He respects our “yes,” but also our “no.” He gives freedom. He invites us: “Come and follow me. Be my beloved friend.”
“In the work of redemption there is no compulsion. No external force is employed. Under the influence of the Spirit of God, man is left free to choose whom he will serve. In the change that takes place when the soul surrenders to Christ, there is the highest sense of freedom.”3
Bernhard Oestreich (Ph.D., Andrews University) teaches New Testament at Friedensau Adventist University, Germany (www.thh-friedensau.de). E-mail: Bernhard.Oestreich@thh-friedensau.de.
- Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press, 1940), p. 550.
- Ibid, p. 519
- Ibid, p. 466.