The story of the rich young ruler is much sadder than I originally thought.
I don’t know why it never occurred to me before, but now I realize that the well-heeled young Jew wasn’t just turning down the blanket invitation that Jesus gave everyone within the sound of his voice. (Though, that’s sad enough.) When Jesus told that devout man to “Come follow me”, this wasn’t “whoever would come after me, must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” This was the same invitation that He had given Peter, James and John! Especially John! John, the “disciple whom Jesus loved”. This rich young ruler was being invited to be as close to Jesus as John, the beloved disciple. The text says that Jesus “looked at him and loved him”, but the man went away sad because he was so wealthy.
Middle-age seems to be the time when people look back over the first half of their lives and take inventory of the opportunities lost. That’s where I am and most likely as a result, the great tragedy of this story is no longer simply that the young ruler didn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. (After all, it’s possible that following the resurrection, he did come to faith.) Now, it seems to me that the great tragedy here is that the rich young ruler didn’t join the Lord’s closest circle of friends while He was on the Earth. He didn’t travel with Him, sit around the fire and talk with Him, go fishing with Him and celebrate the Last Passover with Him. When Jesus rose from the dead, this man was not one of those who saw Him in the upper room or ascend back to the Father on the Mountain of Olives. God stepped into history and invited this man to be at hand when He changed its course and he declined because he loved…stuff.