3. Humility for Life
In emphasising the distinction between God and humans, Jesus in Luke 18 was setting out a principle of God. This principle is that life, and eternal life in particular, is a gift from God, and not something that is earnt as a right. A required response from this is a level of humility when dealing with God.
The rich man's question in Luke 18 bears resemblence to an incident that occurred many years previously, at the time of Elisha. In that case a ruler in Syria called Naaman was suffering from the crippling disease of leprosy and eventually went seeking Elisha for a cure.
2 Kings 5:1: Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honorable, because by him Yahweh had given victory to Syria: he was also a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. WEB
2 Kings 5:9: So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariots, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. 10. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall come again to you, and you shall be clean. 11. But Naaman was angry, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of Yahweh his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the leper. 12. Aren't Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. WEB
Here Naaman was suffering from his pride. He was visualising the great prophet coming personally and doing wonderous things for him. However, instead he was only met by the servant. Just like the rich ruler he didn't have the special meeting with the “good teacher” and it was as if his position wasn't of such importance. He was a great ruler from Syria, but yet the cure was something that just involved something even the poor peasants of Israel could do. It would be like a movie star being taken to hospital and then getting the same treatment that a factory worker would get.
In the case of Naaman, it was his servants that spoke reason to him. As servants themselves, they didn't have the pride to blind the obvious. Instead they encouraged Naaman to follow the directions.
2 Kings 5:13: His servants came near, and spoke to him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid you do some great thing, wouldn't you have done it? how much rather then, when he says to you, Wash, and be clean? 14. Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh came again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. WEB
Not only was he cured, but he could only give glory to God, and not in his own position of power.
Pride and Humility in Prayer
The context in Luke 18 also directs us to the issue of pride. Earlier in the chapter, a parable of Jesus regarding those with pride was recorded. It demonstrated that it was damaging to have pride in one's own righteousness and so exalt self.
Luke 18:10: "Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. 11. The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: `God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.' 13. But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn't even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." WEB
We can easily cast this Pharisee into the mould of an unreasonable man who is just arrogant and short-sighted. However, that very reading of the passage would put us into the same category. We might then be saying in our hearts,
“God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, proud, self-righteous, viewing others with comtempt, or even like this Pharisee.”
Instead, we need to understand the Pharisee as being one of us, and only then can we see that at times we are in the same position. We will have a quiet confidence that we are in some way better than many other people in the world, and take pride in that knowledge. The role of this parable is that this pride is something that gets in the way of service to God, and so it is something that gets in the way of inheriting eternal life.
As a Child
In terms of the ruler asking about eternal life, a passage with even closer context is the one immediately before it, regarding children. Not only did Luke record these incidents in sequence, but the two other parallel records also have a selection of exactly the same sequence. (Matt 19:16, Mark 10:17) That indicates that we should at least consider them together.
Luke 18:15: They were also bringing their babies to him, that he might touch them. But when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16. Jesus summoned them, saying, "Allow the little children to come to me, and don't hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17. Most assuredly, I tell you, whoever doesn't receive the Kingdom of God like a little child, he will in no way enter into it." WEB
The natural question from this incident is just what aspects in the nature of children are there that believers need to have. It's not because they are short, it's not because they are cute, and it's not because they have less knowledge and wisdom. Jesus himself is our example, so we need to look at in just what ways Jesus was like a little child.
Jesus was a child to his heavenly father. He had a relationship of trust in his father. As he knew the time of his death was coming up, Jesus expressed this trust,
Luke 22:42: saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." WEB
Being the child here was about having faithfulness in God and placing trust and reliance in Him, and consequently obeying him. This was a relationship that spanned his whole life, where he was comfortable to let God be his father, do what he said, and trust that he would provide what was good.
John 5:30: I can of myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is righteous; because I don't seek my own will, but the will of my Father who sent me. WEB
Young children will trust their parents to provide for them and give them direction. Jesus was showing that the people who enter the kingdom of God will have this child-father relationship with God.
God requires an obedience, but not just an obedience out of fear or seeking opportunity, but out of a trust that he is our capable and just father.