After growing up reading the Bible, it’s always a great pleasure to come across some tidbit or insight that I never noticed before that fundamentally changes how I read a passage.  For a book project, among a number of other passages, I’m going over the story of the rich young man as found in Matthew 19.

We’re familiar with the story. The guy has done everything right, above and beyond, faithful in his zeal and disciplined in his actions. He asks Jesus what it will take to find eternal life. Fulfill the commandments, Jesus says. I’ve done that, he responds. There’s only one more thing, Jesus adds, sell everything and give it to the poor.

Now, in reading this and hearing about it my whole life, the story is that the guy couldn’t do it, left Jesus behind. He loved his riches more than anything else.  Harder for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, Jesus says.

Only the thing is, the Bible never says the guy didn’t do it, that he didn’t sell everything. It only says he walked away sad about it.

Which means, really, the story is open-ended.  Maybe he goes off to revel more in his wealth and miss eternal life. Maybe he sells everything and finds his way deeper in God.  Either way there is loss and there is gain.  Either way there’s something to be sad about. Which does he do?

We aren’t told. We’re just told that it’s impossible without God. Why do it otherwise? Why give up what we think we need?  Why let go our sense of identity and value?  Only if there is something better, a way of life now that leads to a fullness of life in eternity. Not a pie in sky for later but a sharing of the pie we’ve been given in the present.

Scripture tells us the guy walked away sad, not what he did about his wealth. We read into it, adding our own conclusion and making it part of Scripture.

I think we do that a lot.

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