“You are lacking in one thing” (10:21).
The story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man who asked what he had to do to be saved is followed almost immediately in Luke’s Gospel by the account of Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary. The link between the two stories is Jesus’ word to the rich man, “You are lacking one thing,” and his word to Martha that Mary has chosen the “one thing necessary.”
Mary is a model for discipleship because she focuses her heart entirely on listening to and following Jesus. The rich young man has kept all the commandments perfectly, but when told to sell his possessions in order to follow Jesus, he cannot separate himself from his wealth and the security and influence it affords him, so he goes away sad. He is eager to please God, but he lacks Mary’s deep insight that the ultimate treasure, God’s greatest gift, is Jesus.
Keeping these two stories together, as Luke does, yields an important insight. There is no evidence in the scriptures that Jesus asked Martha and Mary to give up their home or their possessions to follow him. They are already doing it by their hospitality. What Jesus praised in Mary was that she had opened not just her home but her heart to him. What Martha was also offering Jesus indirectly, Mary gave him directly and intimately.
What Jesus wanted from the rich man was not to dispossess himself, but to surrender his heart. Luke says that "Jesus looked at him with love.” If the rich man had responded with love, it would have changed his life. This was the one thing he lacked in the midst of his attention to keeping the Law. Legal perfection was not enough. Love was the one thing necessary.
This is a heartbreaking story, because the man was not ready to take the next step — the one that would have truly opened him to eternal life.
The Good News for us is that, instead of a story that makes us feel guilty us for not being willing to give up all our possessions, this story is really about Jesus inviting us to love him as much as he loves us. Whether we use our wealth for good or give it away to help others is secondary. The first thing, the Great Commandment, is this: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength.” What you then become or do will flow from intimacy with God, not from some meritorious act or by giving up everything.
Mary found the treasure the rich man lacked. Jesus had looked at her with love and she had done the same. Jesus also looked at the rich man with love to open his heart to the same treasure, but he was not ready to respond. Jesus looks at us with love as well. If we say yes, it will be the one thing necessary, and we will truly know the joy of the Gospel.