A guy walks up to Jesus. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.” Or, taking it in context, we might paraphrase, “Jesus I already have everything a man could ever want. I’m rich. I’m happy. I just want it to go on forever.” Or, “I have the Sundae – I just need a cherry to go on top and it’ll be perfect.”
The question frames eternal life as an add-on feature to life. We may be doing life more or less well, but on top of it all, we want eternal life. We have our job, our family, our hobbies, our vacations, our stuff. Now we want to add in the spirituality, the religion, well, whatever you want to call the Something More.
According to Jesus, the guy had nary a clue what eternal life was. For Jesus eternal life is a whole life phenomenon – not just an add-on to whatever we already have. Eternal life was a life WITH Jesus. Jesus’ response to the man shows that eternal life is not just something to add into the mix of what he already has: it’s a replacement for the whole.
Jesus tells the man to sell everything he has, give the money to the poor, and to follow him. “What? I have to give up everything I have? Everything I am? Everything by which I’ve defined my life? Why can’t I just add a bit of God to what I already have? I like what I already have. Won’t God just fit on this shelf over here?”
We have various ways of defining ourselves as we go through the stages of life. Jesus’ idea is that he be more than just a cherry on top – an added spiritual/religious dimension. He wants to be our life.