I (Irene) have written a number of stories set in the gospels – see Stories of Transformation and Hope: Mary’s Gospel Wipf and Stock.

Here’s a more recent one of the rich young ruler:

I had done pretty well for myself. Growing up the oldest son meant my father had spent a lot of time with me teaching me the ropes of his business. He had taken me with him on trading trips and shown me how to drive a good bargain – a profitable one – but fair too. He’d modelled to me a respectful way of dealing, and a strategic way of building networks and contacts. He’d sent me out on little forays of my own and had been happy with the promise I had shown. And at the same time he had taught me our religion and developed in me an awareness of the scriptures and the law. He had shown me how to manage his estate and ensure that all the family as well as servants were looked after. Although he didn’t say too much I knew he was content with how I was following in his footsteps. 

Of course it had been a challenge when he had died suddenly in his fifties and I was left in charge of everything. That shook me up for a while but I continued in the systems he had set up, and the practices he had taught me, delegating to my brothers and our trusted servants, and as I say I had done pretty well, even though I claim it myself. I had married a good woman and our first child was on the way. Life was good. And yet there was a desire for something more. Initially I didn’t know what it was – didn’t I have success? and early success at that. What was this restlessness, this questioning? 

At first I put it to the side, reminding myself of the achievements I had, and the good person I was seen to be, recounting to myself the people I cared for and the projects I had underway. But then I heard a rumour which resonated with the very place where my disquiet seemed to nestle. 

“There’s talk of a holy man,” one of my brothers, Jesse, told me after returning with a good profit from the goods he had sold. “They say he does miracles and speaks about the kingdom of heaven.”

“What do you mean, the kingdom of heaven?” I probed. “Is he talking about life after death?”

My other brother chimed in, “Or is he wanting to foment an uprising?”

“I can’t say much,” he answered, “but no, it doesn’t sound like that. They say he talks in riddles so it’s not easy to know for sure.”

I wasn’t one for riddles, so I left it at that. But every now and then it would come back to me, this talk of the kingdom of heaven. And whispers too, of everlasting life. How could I be sure I was one who would live in God’s kingdom forever? Was it enough to follow the commandments? – I did that already. Was it sufficient to give something to the poor and welcome strangers who came our way? I instructed my household to do that too. And yet still something of unrest within me, something that bubbled to the surface nudging me to question to notice the longing in me for something more. 

It was my other brother, Samuel, who broached it this time. Returning from a trading trip he told his story as we all relaxed after the evening meal. “I met Jesse’s holy man,” he announced, grinning with the import of it. “Well, not actually met him, but I joined the crowd and heard him teaching. He was telling what the kingdom of heaven was like – a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great price, a seed planted in the ground. Not exactly riddles but it gets you thinking.” He paused, and then spoke more slowly, musing. “Maybe it’s not actually what he says, but the way he says it.” He was silent for a moment as we waited, trying to understand. “Not even the way he says it, perhaps it’s the sense of who he is. The feeling that he lives what he says, that he’s goodness all through, that you could somehow trust him with your life.” He looked a little sheepish, not given to such speeches, but I could see that he had been moved by what had happened. 

I said nothing that night nor for days afterwards, but I knew the place in me that longed for something deeper had been stirred again. Finally I took Samuel aside and questioned him about this holy man. There was more to the story than he had let on. I could see that he too had been drawn to this man, even questioning if he was the Messiah. Wasn’t our whole nation a people who longed for the Messiah, who sought for our almighty God to speak to us again through the prophets? I found my brother had asked around in the crowd and had eventually spoken to one of the holy man’s disciples, had found out the man’s name Jesus, and that he was headed for Jerusalem.

As Samuel recounted this I knew that I wanted to meet this Jesus, wanted to speak to him, wanted to question him. “Do you think you could find where he is? Could we go and meet him?”

And so it came about that we caught up with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, a ragtag band following behind him. My excitement rose as we came closer and at last Samuel pointed him out to me. I couldn’t help myself – I took off running and as I reached him fell on my knees. “Good Teacher,” I blurted out, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” he responded. “No-one is good except God alone.” I was silenced, but he continued, “You know the commandments, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honour your father and mother.”

That was easier, and I felt my heart lift. “Teacher,” I answered, “all these I have kept from my youth.” He had drawn me up from my knees and now gave me a long level look that reached to my heart – to that very place where my longing was. I even dare to say I saw the deep love of the eternal Father in his eyes – and I felt willing to do anything.

“You lack one thing: go sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”

It felt as though a heavy stone had dropped on my heart. I looked at him, gasping for words. I thought of my father’s estates, and my family and all the good business we had built up. How could I possibly do what he said? I stared at him, unblinking, and his gaze did not change. No condemnation, only invitation. And I knew I couldn’t do it. I had nothing to say. I stood stock still and the people around shifted impatiently and began to walk on. Jesus himself stood there, silent, patient. I felt as though he was willing me to let everything go, and yet he said nothing just continued to look at me with kindness and even understanding. I dropped my eyes and turned away. There was nothing for it. I couldn’t do what he said. As the band of followers moved off I turned back towards my home and everything I knew.

My brother and I hardly spoke on the way home. I was empty. There was nothing to say. For the first time in my life I felt a total failure, yet it was as though my hands gripped like claws and would not open. 

It was only weeks later that I heard they had killed him. And I wept for him and all the hope I had felt in his presence. I wept for myself too, because now there was no possibility. I threw myself into my work and tried to harden myself against that nudging restlessness. The joy I had known in my business seemed to have drained away and my family would look at me with concern in their eyes. But there was nothing I could do, or even say. I just had to live with the loss.

That was all years ago now. And there is likely not a month that goes by that I don’t revisit that encounter. Those few words we exchanged. That long look. The ache in my heart as I resisted his invitation. My justification of my choice. And yet still a longing.

Then just last week I heard that he still has followers. That there are people who call themselves followers of Jesus who live as if they have given everything away to the poor. A green shoot of hope has unfolded in my heart. Could it be possible I have a second chance?

for more stories…..