The Rich Young Ruler

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.)


Filed under Narcissism

13 responses to “The Rich Young Ruler

  1. Lauren

    Dave, this is really insightful. I often wondered about the rich young ruler and why the Lord seemed so tough on him. Would I have done differently in the young man’s position? But Jesus was able to cut through the young man’s facade & reveal his heart. If living with a narcissist has taught me anything, it’s that maintaining the perfect image causes extremely shallow relationships and such a spiritual bankruptcy from trying to knock God off his throne & sit there instead. I believe you are on the right track here, as the young man loved his image more than he loved God.

  2. Jennie

    Living with a narcissist also taught me that inadvertently questioning, or marring their image, or outing the reality of who they were could provoke a nasty reaction. I hate to think of the lies and nasty gossip this rich young ruler probably spread about Jesus when he got home. But Jesus was a man of truth, and so sometimes you just have to hit the nail on the head. :/

  3. Healing

    Thanks for writing about this, Dave. In many writings about narcissists they say that they can’t keep jobs, etc. I was with a millionaire, very successful but paranoid narcissistic business owner. Even with that wealth he wanted me to buy things from my son’s college account to prove I wasn’t using him. He said his business (and his money obviously) defined him so he had a hard time sharing “himself”. He often talked about himself as being “self-made”. He said he didn’t want God in his life because he “didn’t want anyone telling him what to do.” His money was used as control. Gifts were never gifts but items to string folks along like carrots and pull away if we pulled his mask off. Even my engagement ring was “HIS RING” which he pulled right off my finger in one of his episodes. Once married he refused to put me on joint accounts and made me spend all my savings. Almost to the day that I was out of money he kicked me out while pregnant then refused to give me anything. I lived with family until the baby was born and could get support. They are so evil. When the therapist told him he was cruel he was so surprised! He said, “ME?? ME?? You must be mistaken.” I often wonder if it’s worse to be with a successful, rich Narc then a poor one because at least the poor ones can’t use financial abuse as one more tool in their arsenal. Oh, and even the other day when dropping off our child to him he grabbed at my chest and started talking sexually to me. We are now divorced and he has a new girlfriend. When I told him it wasn’t appropriate he said that since he pays child support he feels he “owns them”! Wow. Are there any words for that level of entitlement and disgusting way of looking at people as objects to be bought? Oh yeah…there is one word…. NARCISSISM. Thanks again for your work! I would be curious to hear others experience with rich and “successful” (by today’s definition) Narcs.

    • Jennie

      Healing, I don’t know if mine was rich and successful, although he was such a tightwad, that at one point we had a million in assets while only having one income (50K/year) and four kids…AND we’d paid off the mortgage. Some things from your experience ring true though. That sense of ownership because everything was his including me was one of them. The number of times he used biblical verses to justify any and all sexual shenanigans between us were countless. It didn’t matter how much I protested or begged, how humiliated or disgusted I was, it was apparently biblically within his right. As you said, they loved money and used people rather than the other way around. It was more important to him that I not get the bathmat wet and thus wear it out, than it was for me to be comfortable and normal in stepping out of the bath. He wouldn’t give to anyone, including me and the children, unless he got something out of it. I remember having the sudden realization one day that he calculated absolutely everything to his own advantage. I could go on and on, but you get the point. (((hugs)))

      • Healing

        Thanks, Jennie. Hugs back at you. Yes, I get the point. They are all variations of the same theme. Hope you are healed and happy now!

    • Healing, I appreciate the good word. I am not sure why other writers miss this. Most of the narcissists I have known have been noticeably successful. In fact, they have dedicated themselves to that successful image. To be honest, most of them are completely willing to use the time and accomplishments of others to get their success. I also agree that it may be more difficult for those with successful Ns because the Ns get enough supply at work and in the community and have no reason to invest in your relationship. On the other hand, a narcissist who feels powerless or unappreciated may be more likely to be directly abusive, using those close to him/her as places to dump anger and frustration. So, I don’t really know what worse. I just know that life with an N is tough. I pray for all of you.

      • Healing

        Good points, as always, Dave! Yes, it is hard with ANY Narc. Mine definitely came home and took out his frustrations directly on me. He appeared to be a great boss and I think he had all his employees (especially the women) believing I was the horrible one. But you may be referring to physical abuse which he did not do. It was the verbal/mental/emotional stuff that he dealt…I’ve had physical in a past relationship…and I definitely feel the that verbal/mental/emotional abuse was far worse. I read recently a quote from someone that said, “My ex did not break my heart, but he broke my brain.” Wow. I can relate to that. They are like a cancer in your head. He did break my heart, too. However, I am recovering on all counts so praise God. Thanks for your prayers, Dave, and your work!

    • Joy

      My ex is successful and, though not rich, he is well off compared to most in our area…alone he makes over double what the average family in our area makes. This is VERY important to him. At work he feels “less than” because he is not at the top of the heap. He used to tell me that we were not well off because he didn’t compare to the upper management in income. I had to point out how very blessed we were, and a year or so ago, also reminded him of this again.

      I appreciate his hard work and his ability to earn and provide (and I always let him know this), but it doesn’t exempt him from other contributions to our relationship. He honestly seems to think that because he had a good income, I should not care that he looked down on me, rejected me, set impossible to meet standards (that were always changing), refused to acknowledge me, subtly belittled me. I was supposed to not mind his stonewalling, silent treatments, moodiness, and efforts to be everyone else’s favorite…… long as he had a job, I had no right to complain.

      I also had very little control over the money…I could write checks, but it was always brought to my attention that I was spending too much (and I was definitely the frugal one in the relationship). Any decision I made about money was in question, and any decisions he made were, of course, well thought out and not up for discussion.

      Now he uses the money to keep my daughter on a string. The kids have started to see the games he plays, but he is helping her with her college loans and recently paid for most of the wedding. I think money is a quiet little power tool for the narcissist.

      I’m thinking about this post a lot. It makes me feel so much better to think that narcissism is actually addressed in the Bible.

      • UnForsaken

        Such a good point, Joy. As long as he has the job…yup, I can identify with every line you said, even though my N is a relation.

  4. Penny

    I think it is important to note that Jesus let the rich young ruler walk away. He didn’t chase after him. He spoke the truth and gave him the opportunity to make a choice. Scripture says He felt compassion for him, but He let him go; He didn’t spend a lifetime trying to convince him to follow HIm.

    • Jennie

      Yes, I think that’s an excellent point, too, Penny. Jesus never chased or tried to prove. Even with Herod and Pilate, he didn’t feel the need to explain or defend himself.

      And Healing, I’m very well indeed now. It’s been almost 6 years since I left him, and you’re right. They break your brains and get into your head. You have to work very hard indeed to shut the those voices out even after you’re been away from them for a while.

      • UnForsaken

        Jennie, the voices in the head are something I know well…..we probably all do. At one time I had to take a “fast” from reading the Bible, and then change versions, because of the “voice” of a terrible minister in my head. I have become more of a fighter, but the somewhat pacifistic approach y’all are recommending has never failed . Always help me rest in You , Lord !

        Are all N’s obsessed with money? Mine is’t wealthy, Healing, but definitely ” tight” with money. He eats whole meals of fast food , and I have always eaten the $1 menu ! ( I like saving money, and I like the $1 menu…But!) I think in our culture they see it as power . So they fling it around when there is someone to impress or they want to indulge themselves, but scrimp and make us feel responsible for spending for anything else.
        My hugs to both of you , Healing and Jennie! We know warped people, but looking to Christ, we will Not be that way ourselves! Bless you!

  5. Dee

    My understanding of narcissism colors everything I see now. It is actually a comfort to see the Bible address this concept, even if you have to search it out. This condition is not new, been around a long time. God is quite familiar with it. I’m glad.

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