It’s Narcissist Friday!
Let me paraphrase this story from a little different perspective.
A certain young man wanted to show himself and others that he was spiritual. So he went to Jesus, since Jesus was widely acknowledged to be a great teacher, greater than all the others. When he found Jesus, he tried to flatter Jesus with a special title. Others just called Jesus, “Rabbi,” or “teacher.” This young man called Him, “Good Teacher.”
But Jesus, desiring nothing of flattery and wanting to expose the young man’s insincerity, asked, “Why are you calling me good? Only God is good. Do you think I am God?”
The young man had also asked an important question. Knowing that Jesus taught more about eternal life than others and wanting to show those around him that he was special, the young man asked, “What must I do to receive eternal life?”
Jesus respected his question, but used it to further expose the young man’s mistaken perspective on his own value. He told the young man that he should keep the commandments, the same thing any teacher of the day would have told him.
When the young man asked which commandments, Jesus had him. “Just the regular ones,” Jesus said. “You know: ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Nothing about “no other gods before Me,” or “keep the Sabbath holy,” or “don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.” Why not those?
But the young man stood a little taller. He said, “I have kept all of those throughout my whole life. What else do I lack?” (Perfectly? All of them? Really?) If that was all that was needed, the young man could be assured of eternal life. If something else was necessary, he would do it easily.
Jesus accepted his statement without comment. Arguing with him wouldn’t help. Instead, Jesus would get right to the point.
“Okay, great. So now just go, sell everything you have, and follow me. You won’t need all those things. You can trust me to provide for you. You will become poor, just like all these people around you. Leave your privileged life behind and follow me.”
Suddenly the truth was revealed. The young man was very wealthy and had a respected position among his people. He had worked very hard to present an image of success and superiority. He wasn’t like the rest of these people. He could humble himself when it served his purpose, but to humble himself all the way like Jesus was suggesting was out of the question.
He went away in distress. Maybe a little angry. He mumbled to himself as he walked away, wondering how this Jesus could ask such a thing. Didn’t Jesus know who he was? He deserved respect and he had worked hard for his money. No way was he going to just give it away and have nothing.
Now, I know that this isn’t the way we learned this story. Yet, a careful reading of the three accounts in the gospels can certainly give us something like this. This young man may well have been a narcissist. He wanted to be able to do enough to earn eternal life. He expected that what he had already done would be taken into account. He couldn’t give up what he had accomplished.
This story is not about money or the love of money. This story is about a man who wanted to add superior spirituality to his resume, certainty to his future. This young man’s heart was not nearly as open as we were taught, I think. That’s why Jesus talked with him the way He did. And the word for “sorrowful” means “distressed.” The young man may not have grieved over his attachment to his possessions. He may have been disturbed by the fact that Jesus was not impressed with him. This puts him firmly in the camp of the Pharisees and other religious people of Jesus’ day, who thought they would be able to impress God by the things they did for Him.
It may also put him in the camp of the narcissists. Like all narcissists, this young man needed affirmation. He wanted Jesus to tell him that he was superior, that he had something more than the rest of the people. He was already superior in position and in wealth. Now he wanted spiritual recognition. When Jesus asked him to set aside his superiority, he was very disturbed. Sorrowful? Maybe, but almost certainly mixed with indignation. After all, he did walk away.
Well, you can take this for what it’s worth. I could be way off. But I don’t think so….
(You can read the story for yourself in Luke 18:18-23, Matthew 19:16-22, and Mark 10:17-22.)