and adultery and excusing his own hate, lust, or selfishness.
By his own desperation we know he had missed the point.
The fact that he was still seeking eternal life made it clear that
he hadn’t found it yet, nor was he confident that his current
course would produce it. He wanted something more to do.
This man was steeped in his own works. That was evident by
the question he had asked at the outset. The “I” and the “do”
gave him away—“What must I do…?” He was focused on him-
self, his ability and resources; trying so hard to earn what Jesus
wanted to give him.
How Jesus wanted him to understand that! Mark specifi-
cally mentions that Jesus looked on him with deep affection.
What did he see? Did he see a little boy trying to be perfect as
the only way to earn his father’s affirmation? Did he see the
years of fruitless labor this man had endured? Could he see
the twisted motives he used to justify himself and maintain his
illusion of righteousness? Did he see the gnawing in the young
man’s stomach, born of his obsessive drive to perfection that
was destroying him from within?
Probably he saw all that and more, and Jesus wanted him to
see it too. His next response seems on the surface to be one
of Jesus’ most insensitive comments: “One thing you lack: go
and sell all you possess, and give it to the poor, and you shall
have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” On hearing the
words, the businessman’s countenance fell. Unable to do that,
he walked away in grief.
How often I’ve taught this parable, and with unwitting arro-
gance, railed at the rich man’s inability to do what Jesus asked
of him. He was too greedy to follow Jesus, I had said. He loved
his money more than God and now he would pay for it.
But, honestly, was that the point? Who would have come to
this kingdom if those were the terms? When I first went forward
at a Billy Graham crusade all I was asked to do was repent and
believe in him. If he’d asked me to sell everything I owned and
give it to the poor, I doubt I would have gone forward. I doubt
anyone else would have either. In fact I’ve never met one person
who ever came to Christ on those terms nor many who would
stay if he required it of them today!
To condemn the man for not doing so is not only arrogant
The Businessman and the Beggar
of us, but misses Jesus’ point entirely. He was not offering the
man the opportunity to buy his salvation. He only wanted him
to discover what his attempts to keep the law already should
have—that he didn’t have enough in himself to meet any stan-
dard of qualification for God’s life.
RAISING THE BAR
Coaches don’t train young high jumpers by putting the bar
at world-record height and challenging them to try and jump
it. They put it at a height their charges can successfully achieve
and then, over the course of time, slowly raise the bar allowing
refined technique, practice and conditioning to help them jump
But Jesus doesn’t do that here. Responding to the rich man’s
request, Jesus puts the bar forty feet in the air. Jump that! And
the rich businessman did exactly what any athlete would do, he
went away discouraged, knowing the task was impossible.
The man understood the lesson, but missed the point. Jesus
wasn’t trying to be mean to him. He raised the bar beyond the
man’s ability to get over it precisely because Jesus wanted him
to stop trying. The gift he offered the man was to be free of
the incredible burden of having to earn God’s love by his own
efforts. He was caught in his own doing and Jesus was trying to
He was hoping the young man would look him in the eye
and say, “I can’t do that!” To which Jesus might have answered,
“Good, then stop doing all the other silly things you’re trying
to do to earn God’s favor. Stop striving, stop pretending, stop
trying to earn that which you can never earn!”
Jesus didn’t want him living any longer under the tyranny of
the favor line, but he knew how difficult it is for people of great
resource to find their way into his kingdom. Such people always
feel like they can earn it or pay for it. They are too focused on
their own efforts and resources to simply receive God’s gift.
His dependence on his own resources was robbing him
of the life he sought. No matter how much he could do, such
efforts would never cover the empty place in their heart that
seeks God’s approval. For it’s only in that realization that we
He Loves Me!
can discover what it really means to be approved as God’s child
and find security in his love for us.
That’s not to say that as we love him he won’t bring us greater
freedom from our possessions and show us the joy of gener-
osity, for he will. But that will rise not out of our attempts to
earn his favor, but as grateful responses to the favor he already
Even when Peter started to boast that he and the others had
left everything to follow him, Jesus reminds him that none of
them had left anything that he wasn’t replacing with far more
and far better. The fact is they had left their stuff not to earn
eternal life, but because of a relationship with Jesus that had
captured their hearts.
Sadly, we don’t get to see the end for this young businessman.
My hope is that Jesus’ words finally worked through his heart.
But whether they did or didn’t, Jesus still offered him an incred-
ible gift—the secret to God’s favor.
“LORD, HAVE MERCY!”
As Jesus was departing Jericho a few days later for his final
walk up the barren heights to the city of Jerusalem, another
man wanted his help. This man was a blind beggar sitting by the
side of the road. He heard a great commotion around him, he
wanted to know what it was. Someone told him that Jesus of
Nazareth was passing through on his way to Jerusalem for the
Bartimaeus had already heard enough about this teacher
from Galilee to know that he had the power to help him. He
began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
People nearby were embarrassed by his shouts and sternly
told him to keep quiet. He was only a beggar after all, why
would Jesus care about him? But that only made Bartimaeus
cry even louder and above all the other noise Jesus heard him.
He had Bartimaeus brought to him and he made his request. “I
want to regain my sight.”
Notice that he did not ask what he needed to do to see again.
He did not barter based on any qualification he might have to
make him worthy. He simply put all of his confidence in the
The Businessman and the Beggar
mercy of the man from God.
And that was enough.
Jesus didn’t ask him to sell all he had. Jesus healed him and
noted that Bartimaeus’ simple focus was all that was needed.
“Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Not only did he receive
healing, but salvation as well.
Jesus did not love the beggar more than the businessman,
nor did he give to one and not the other. For he graciously gave
to both of them. It’s just that one recognized it and one did not
and the difference between the two contains all we need to
know to find life in God.
Jesus didn’t want the disciples to miss that point. Even before
he had left on this journey he had told them a parable that these
encounters had illustrated perfectly. He told of a Pharisee and a
tax collector entering the temple. The Pharisee delighted in his
righteousness—how he was more committed than anyone else
he knew. He even puffed himself up at the expense of the tax
collector praying nearby, “God, I thank you that I am not like
other people… even like this tax collector.”
That’s what living by our own works produces. Since we’ll
never be good enough on our own we will seek to justify our-
selves by being better than most other believers around us. To
create that façade we have to focus on their weaknesses and
hold them in contempt. Any time we set ourselves above others,
we only demonstrate how little we understand God’s mercy.
The tax-collector on the other hand was not even willing to
look up to heaven, but beat his chest praying, “God, be merciful
to me, the sinner!” Then Jesus asked which one went home jus-
tified? The answer was obvious, as obvious as Jesus’ encounter
with the businessman and the beggar.
When you are tempted to stake your relationship with God
on your own goodness or your sacrifice, don’t even try. Picture
the bar so high that you’ll never find a way to clear it. Approach
God on the basis of your own efforts and you will always go
away disappointed and disillusioned. But that is not bad news.
What it means is that God has fulfilled in himself everything
he would ever require of us. Abandoning our own attempts
to establish our own worthiness is central to the power of the
gospel. Learn that and a door stands before you that will lead
He Loves Me!
you to the very heart of a loving Father. This is the way to know
that he delights over you with joy, and is able to transform you
into the fullness of his glory.
He absolutely, completely loves you. Discovering how much
will revolutionize your relationship to him and your life in this
But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not
sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but
For your personal journey
Spend some time with God considering your own rela-
tionship to him. Do your requests of God look more like the
businessman or the beggar? Do you begin every day aware of
your performance or willing to stake it on God’s mercy? We’ve
all been taught that life in God is something we earn with dili-
gent effort and this isn’t easy to unlearn. Ask him to help you
understand his mercy and how you can stop trying to jump over
a bar you will never reach.
The Businessman and the Beggar
The God We
Love to Fear
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.
It has been found difficult and left untried.
t was a strange game we played as little children. We used to
scare ourselves half to death just for the sheer joy of it.
We would be sitting around the front yard of someone’s
home, when suddenly one of us would point down the street
saying we saw a kidnapper sneaking up towards us. The rest of
us would mockingly feign to be afraid.
“I’m not kidding,” he would say, “I know I saw him looking
this way.” For a while he would continue the ploy and we would
not believe him. Eventually someone else would join the story
and point out something he thought looked suspicious, a glance
our direction by someone walking up the street, or a car passing
by too slowly. Then the game was on.
Everyone contributed to the story in hopes of scaring the
others off the porch. The last one to run was the winner. But
we were young and it usually didn’t take long. At some point in
the process reality would get distorted and we’d all believe our
own stories. Suddenly we’d burst off the porch, running for the
backyard and down into the safety of the basement.
After a while our fears would subside and we would, laughing,
retell how scared we got. Then we’d go out front to see if we
could spot any more kidnappers. The whole process would
repeat itself until we again ran to the basement for safety.
It was only a game, but it allowed us to taste the power of
fear. Even when we were making it up ourselves and dared to
resist it, it could still win over us.
A POWERFUL FORCE
If you’ve ever tried to go to sleep at night with fear preying on
your mind, you also know its incredible power. Even when we
can rationally discount it, fear nevertheless forces its will upon
us, like a relentless rising tide.
Those who motivate people know that nothing works better.
I see it in my work helping public schools navigate the treach-
erous waters where church and state issues collide. All of the
letters sent out by advocacy groups on the right and the left
appeal exclusively to fear of what the other side is doing to
destroy “the America we all hold dear.” They know nothing
works better to make people send in their money or volunteer
their time and energy.
Fear permeates life in this age. It’s what makes you go to
work in the morning, lock your doors at night and makes your
heart race when a policeman pulls in behind you. Advertisers
use it and so do friends and family when they want you to do
what they think is best.
And there is so much to fear—
We fear the unknown.
We fear being unknown.
We fear not having enough.
We fear getting caught.
We fear we’ll never find the right person to marry.
He Loves Me!
We fear debilitating or life-threatening diseases.
We fear for our children’s safety.
We fear what other people think of us.
We fear they won’t.
We fear crime.
We fear losing a loved one.
We fear authority.
We fear that we won’t get the things we desire
We fear what others might do to us.
We fear rejection.
We fear failure.
We fear being taken advantage of.
We fear being alone.
We fear losing our job.
We fear people finding out we’re not all we claim
We fear something bad might happen to us.
We fear not fitting in.
We fear death.
No wonder it’s not easy to sleep some nights and no wonder
we are bombarded with the symptoms of stress, all the way from
headaches to depression. Fear is so powerful that almost all of
our human institutions use various forms of it to keep people
under control. Offering the right combination of rewards and
punishments they can easily exploit people’s fears to make them
do what they otherwise wouldn’t choose to do.
It would be easier to make the point here if fear always led us
to do harmful and destructive things, but that simply isn’t true.
Sometimes fear will lead us to prudent decisions. The fear of
getting caught might win over our temptation to do something
wrong. The fear of losing our job will induce us to work harder
than we would otherwise.
In a fallen world, fear is the only way to hold society in check.
Caring for nothing more than our own self-interest, the fear of
hurtful consequences is the foundation of all laws and authority.
Before Jesus died on the cross, there was nothing else. Even
God used fear to help keep sin in check among his people.
The God We Love to Fear
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” wrote the
Psalmist. We come to the regrettable conclusion that fear isn’t
our problem—only what we fear. If we can fear the awesome,
holy God more than anything else in our lives it will lead us to
the right path, or so we think.
Thus we come to view fear in ambivalent terms. Fear of what
others might think can lead us down a wrong path, but fearing
God can help motivate us to holiness. We think it’s not what we
fear that matters, but who we fear.
WON BY FEAR
Just look at the history of Christianity. Teaching people to
fear God and his judgments have been used more than any
other motive to hold the faithful in check. It is readily accepted
now as the best way to get people to follow God.
Saint Cecile Cathedral sits high above every other building
in the village of Albi, located in the southern region of France.
Like the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, the ceiling and walls of
the magnificent edifice are painted with Biblical scenes.
The entire story of the Bible has been painted across the
ceiling over a brilliant blue background. Beginning at the back of
the cathedral with creation and Eden and finishing in front with
the Last Judgment. There, behind the altar and overwhelming
it by its sheer size is one of the largest full-color pictorial com-
positions in the world, nearly forty feet tall and thirty feet wide.
In its original form, the painting depicted God enthroned at the
center, judging between the sheep and the goats.
The latter are cast into the torment of hell, agonizingly repre-
sented in seven individual panels that take up the entire bottom
of the composition. Each is fifteen feet in height and show how
those guilty of each of the seven mortal sins will be tormented
in hell. For instance, the greedy are shown bound, with demons
pouring molten gold down their throats.
Constructed in the fourteenth century this scene depicts what
the designers firmly wanted in the minds of the faithful as they
gathered in the Cathedral. God is a terrible judge, and terrible
things will happen to those who do not do what he says. It’s a
refrain often heard in Christian history—even to the present.
He Loves Me!
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested