Contrasts Sharpen Vision

31 Oct

Juxtaposition. For the grammarians and English majors among us, you know that word. You recognize it for its value in making strong points and deepening concepts. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect. The pictures show how contrast in photography has a similar effect. Finding this writing style used by the Lord triggered my imagination.

Toward the end of Matthew 19, Jesus takes a child onto his lap and says anyone who wants to enter his Father’s kingdom must come as a little child. His closest disciples had heard this principle not long before. (the beginning of Matthew 18 for inquisitive readers) They evidently missed its application when they began holding the children back from Jesus while he was ministering. He gave a gentle rebuke and told them again—let the children come for such is the kingdom.

What happened immediately after in Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s accounts is the juxtaposition I am talking about. A rich young ruler stepped up and asked Jesus what he needed to do to receive eternal life. Could you get any more opposite? Well, it does.

Jesus tells him to obey God’s commands.

The man asks which ones.

Jesus recites a few.

The man says he does all of those so what’s lacking.

Jesus tells him if he wants to be perfect, he must sell all he has and distribute all the money to the poor.

At that point the man turns away sad.

We are not given the internal conversation the man had before turning away, but I imagine it being a little bit like Naaman in the Old Testament. When Naaman was told through an understudy of the great prophet what he must do to be healed of leprosy, he let loose with an epic temper tantrum. Couldn’t the prophet show proper respect to him and deliver the message himself? How will washing make any difference? Why must it be in the dirty Jordan when there are cleaner rivers back home?

Lucky (not really luck) for Naaman, he had a servant who could wisely appeal to him to obey the prophet’s word. Through that obedience, he was healed.

I can hear the rich young ruler wrestling with similar thoughts. Really? If he can’t find any failure in my obedience, he has to make up something to catch me on? Sell all my goods and give it away? Doesn’t he know my influence could greatly help his ministry? I expected he would suggest ways to build on the foundation I’ve already laid. Yes! That’s it! I should grow from where I am, not a lower place.

He didn’t have anyone at his side to remind him he must come as a little child to enter God’s kingdom.

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