The back five

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Yesterday we went to St Catherine’s, a local Anglican church; it’s been ages since I’ve been at a church that preaches from the lectionary. So like many other CC Bloggers, I found myself thinking about the story of the rich young man. (Mark 10:17-31)

Actually, we don’t know that he was young, but we do know that he was rich. We also know that he’s not far from the Kingdom: he wants to find eternal life, and he asks the right person about it. And Jesus, as he does on other occasions, gives him a summary of the Law. But this summary is different from other summaries:

You know the commandments: “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

There are hundreds of commandments in the Law, but Jesus chooses five. Five which appear together as part of the Ten Commandments. The last five of the Ten Commandments - the five which Jesus summarizes elsewhere as “love your neighbour as yourself”. Jesus talks about the back five.

And this rich man gives an amazing answer: He’s got no problem with the back five. Done all those. Jesus is impressed. He loves this man. He doesn’t question him or dispute him; this man has done well. But Jesus tells him that there’s still something missing.

What’s missing? I think it’s obvious. Jesus has only challenged him with the back five. Elsewhere, Jesus’s summary of the Law has “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind” - the front five - as well as “love your neighbour as yourself”.

How does Jesus explain to this man what’s missing? He does it in a strange way - he tells him to sell everything he has and give the money to the poor. This is what’s missing, says Jesus. You’ve done the back five. Now deal with the front five.

Giving to the poor is directly connected to the front five. Jesus is saying that “loving the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind” will inescapably include a love for, provision for and denial of self for the poor.

“Wash! Cleanse yourselves! Remove your sinful deeds from my sight. Stop sinning! Learn to do what is right! Promote justice! Give the oppressed reason to celebrate! Take up the cause of the orphan! Defend the rights of the widow!”


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