Something intriguing to think about is what must have been going through Matthew’s mind as he witnessed, and then later recounted in his gospel, Jesus’ interaction with the Rich Man. Matthew, a Jew, had been a tax collector for the Roman Empire, and, as such, was both wealthy and despised by his kinsmen. He was essentially profiting from state-sanctioned exploitation. Yet when Jesus called Matthew to follow him, he quickly left it all behind—in the face of His savior, he counted everything else as loss.
So here comes a wealthy man who had been faithful to God’s law. He had followed every command, and wanted to know if his obedience would be enough for him to inherit eternal life. In response, Jesus tells the man to give all he has to the poor. Perhaps to Matthew’s horrified confusion, the man hangs his head in sadness and walks away. Both men were wealthy when they met Jesus, so why did one give everything and the other struggle to do the same?
In this moment, Matthew may have remembered what Jesus had said earlier when He told His disciples, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (16:26) Obedience in itself doesn’t save us or make us worthy of God’s gift of eternal life—only Jesus can do that. Rather, obedience does an internal work of reordering our priorities for the things of God. The rich man had mistaken his lawful behavior for justification instead of sanctification.
God’s call to care for the poor—and by extension, to lay down our lives—is really about prioritizing God’s Kingdom over the sin-soaked priorities of the world. It will always be a better choice, and we can see Matthew as a good example of that.
Imagine that Matthew went looking for the Rich Man after his conversation with Jesus, only to find him sitting on a stoop, alone and sad. What would Matthew say to him? Journal how you think this conversation would go between these two men.