One of my favorite stories from the Bible happens when a rich young man approaches Jesus and asks what he must do to get eternal life. Here’s what happened:
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth (Matthew 19:16-22).
Keep the Commandments
I think it is interesting that when the rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to get eternal life, Jesus gives a standard answer—keep the commandments. When the rich young man asks for more clarification, Jesus gives him a list—don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor.
The rich young man is confident—he says he has kept these commandments his whole life.
Now, most of these commandments are self-explanatory. Murder is pretty clear—you either have murdered someone or you haven’t. It’s the same with adultery, stealing, etc. It’s pretty clear what the command is telling you to do (or not do).
What Does it Mean to Love Your Neighbor?
The last commandment Jesus mentions—love your neighbor—is a little more difficult. What does it mean to love your neighbor? Does it just mean that you don’t do something terrible to your neighbor? Or does it mean something more than that? Do we have a responsibility to take actions for the good of our neighbor?
The Challenge of Jesus
When the rich young man responds that he has kept all these commandments since he was a boy, Jesus challenges him on the last commandment. Jesus raises the bar on loving your neighbor. Jesus tells the rich young man that if he truly is committed to loving his neighbor, he should sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. This would be putting his money where his mouth is (literally).
The rich young man wasn’t willing to do that. He was confronted with the fact that he had a lot of money, but he wasn’t using it to help his neighbor. He probably wasn’t mean to his neighbor, but he wasn’t yet loving his neighbor with his actions, resources, and money. That is what Jesus required, and the rich young man wasn’t willing to do it.
What do you think of the call to love your neighbor? What does loving your neighbor mean to you? Are you willing to love your neighbor with your actions, resources, and money?