The Rich Young Man

A familiar story...what can we learn this week?

May 8-14

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This week, we read about a rich young man who comes to the Savior. He asks the Savior what he needs to do in order to receive eternal life. The Savior lists off various commandments, and the rest of the story proceeds as follows:

Matthew 19:20-21

20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

The young man then goes away sorrowing because he is rich and doesn’t want to give away all that he has. 

We have all heard this story before. What can we learn from it this week?

What we are required to give

Christ asked this young man to sell everything and give it to the poor. I think it’s important to note that Christ doesn’t ask this of everyone. He asked it of his apostles, but He didn’t ask everyone to do it. Nicodemus was a rich and powerful man, but as far as we know, Christ never asked this of him. 

One of the principles that we can study from this story is the fact that Christ asks of us based on our needs. Every way that Christ touches our life is individualized. When He chooses to bestow blessings or allows specific trials to come to us, it is meant for us. When He gives strength or comfort, it is given perfectly to meet our responsibilities and needs. This is no different when it comes to sacrifices. Christ asked this specific man to sacrifice all that he had monetarily because that was what this man needed in order to fully experience eternal life.

This young man had kept the commandments. He followed the law of Moses. This means he also gave alms to the poor already, but the Savior knew the heart of the young man. He knew what blocked the young man from truly experiencing eternal life. Christ knew that the riches were the stumbling block that would disallow him from experiencing the most important things in eternity – the kinds of things experienced by the apostles who had also been asked to sacrifice everything and follow Christ.

There was a girl who bore her testimony in my ward when I was growing up. Her house had just burned down. She said something along the lines of, “It’s amazing to see what you have when you lose everything.” Part of experiencing eternal life is experiencing a freedom from worldly things. It’s experiencing a freedom from fear of losing things. It’s experiencing a life where you can’t lose the most valuable things. Part of experiencing eternal life is experiencing the true value of things. That’s an interesting concept when you consider the fact that most people associate wealth with freedom, and this is not entirely untrue. There is some freedom associated with having things, but there is also often a bondage. The bondage part is not always associated; I think that’s why Christ doesn’t ask everyone to give everything away. However, for this specific young man, Christ knew that he would need to get rid of everything in order to experience the freedom Christ wanted him to experience. Christ knew what sacrifice this young man needed in order to find eternal life. 

The biggest gifts come in the ugliest packages

Asking the young man to give away everything was obviously a test, but I also believe it was so much more than that. It was a gift. The longer I live, the more I come to believe the fact that some of the best gifts from our Heavenly Father have come in the ugliest packages. A trial, weakness, or requested sacrifice are not often put in terms of gifts, but that’s precisely what they are (yes, even the weaknesses are gifts). When we consider that the entire point of the Plan of Salvation is about growth, we realize that the true gifts are the things that force us to grow. When we bear testimony on Sundays of all the times our Savior helped us through something difficult, we weep and thank Him for helping us. Life changes a little when we recognize that the hard things are also the gifts. The strength, peace, and comfort we receive as we walk through difficult things are all merciful and beautiful and wonderful. We should be (and we often are) grateful for these things. I simply want to add that being grateful for the hardest things (because we know what the hard things are truly about), brings another level of comfort as our eyes are opened to the fact that the Savior is enabling us to live like Him.

Though the Savior wasn’t asking this man to sacrifice anything truly valuable, it must have felt painful. Even in the midst of all my beliefs that the Savior knows best, it would still be very difficult to give everything I currently have to the poor. Very difficult. It’s a hard pill to swallow, and upon first glance, it is an ugly gift. However, Christ wasn’t just asking for a sacrifice for fun; He was offering this man one of the best gifts, an opportunity. If you could choose between being rich or living the kind of life that Peter did, what would you choose? 

Could have still felt sad while giving it up

One of the things I love about the Savior’s path towards eternal life is that He doesn’t expect perfection immediately.

What if this young man had gone away sorrowing but still followed through on what the Savior asked after thinking about it for a few days? Let’s pretend that this young man eventually appeared in his coarse outfit and walking sandals, ready to follow the Savior in His ministry. Let’s also pretend that those riches still weighed on his heart as he continued walking towards the Savior and His group. 

Surely there are experiences in the scriptures where people are cursed for longing after riches (cough cough pillars of salt), but I can’t help but wonder if this young man’s sad heart would have been treated differently. He had voluntarily acted in faith and sacrificed all. I imagine the Savior would have wrapped His arm around this now-poor man and told him, “This is just the beginning. You can’t imagine what will happen next.” 

At this point in time, the young man would then have two options every single time he was presented with another incredible teaching moment or miracle from Christ. He could choose to hold onto his sorrow over his wealth, or he could choose to hold onto the goodness radiating off the Savior until the weight from the riches naturally became nonexistent.

I feel like my messages often center on the fact that we have to make sure our hearts are following our actions. I emphasize this because I sincerely believe that this is the best way to experience eternal life as quickly as possible. However, I also fully acknowledge that you can’t force your feelings immediately. If I was asked to give up everything today, I would miss my bed tomorrow night. But though we can’t necessarily choose our feelings, we can choose our focus. Are we asking the Lord to help us see reality? Are we asking Him for eyes to see the true worth of things or are we too busy mourning things we believed were important? Are we focusing on the goodness radiating off of the Savior? Because I promise that if we are, the pull of the world naturally dissipates into nothing. 

I’m grateful for a Savior who gives my heart time to catch up. I’m grateful He paid for the time and mistakes it would take for my heart to become pure enough to experience eternal life. I am not afraid because I know He has taken care of the price for mortality, and I love Him. My heart will get there soon enough.

The reward

There is another verse in this story.

Matthew 19:29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.

Why didn’t Christ teach this to the young man as He asked him to sacrifice everything? Why didn’t He teach the young man that he would receive a hundredfold of everything he sacrificed? 

It’s because offering someone a hundredfold is not the same as offering someone eternal life. In fact, in the case of the young man, it might have further prevented him from receiving eternal life. Telling the young man that he would receive a hundredfold of everything he sacrificed wouldn’t have actually given him an opportunity to let go of his riches. And as we discussed earlier, holding onto riches in our hearts actually prevents us from experiencing eternal life.

It reminds me of when the Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. The Lord wanted Abraham to understand the atonement on a level unexperienced by other humans. He wanted Abraham to have the epiphany that there was no one to jump in and save Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ from having to make those sacrifices.

Joseph Smith taught that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” The Lord asks for a lot. He asks us to consecrate everything we have and are to Him because He knows that it is only in that consecration that we find what eternal life actually feels like. The more I learn, the more I believe that eternal life is not simply bestowed upon us like the Resurrection. It is something we experience gradually as we live up to the laws that are part of it.

I’m grateful for a Savior who does not shy away from asking me to grow so that I can eventually live on His level. I’m grateful He paid the price so that I had time to figure it out.

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