In a chapel sermon at College once I heard it suggested that Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler strikes a decisive blow against the New Perspective.
It may just be me but something feels slightly off in claiming that a passage in the Gospels might prove decisive for our reading of Paul (not that it’s impossible of course but it kind of doesn’t sit right).
Nevertheless, assuming that it gives us a genuine insight into at least one eddy within the broad stream of Second Temple Judaism, then the rich young ruler’s opening question — ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ — does raise a question mark about E. P. Sanders’ reconstruction of Christianity’s Jewish background.
That’s part one of the enigma. The second part, however, comes with Jesus’ answer. Get this: When the rich young man asks Jesus what he can do to inherit eternal life, Jesus doesn’t wheel out the ‘do/done’ or the ‘bridge to life’ illustration. In fact, in the terms we’d comfortably reach for, he doesn’t mention grace at all!
Rather, He asks the guy about how his obedience to the law is going (quite well as it turns out). Then He really lays down the gauntlet — and exposes the dark reality of this guy’s heart: ‘One thing you lack. Sell everything and give the money to the poor. Then come, follow me.’
What’s with that? Any ideas?