Kept All the Commandments Except the Law of Love


And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said, “All these I have observed from my youth.” And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  (Luke 18:18-22)

In Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “The Death of Ivan Ilych”, Ivan puzzles over what he has done wrong in his life that led to his developing a fatal illness. “Why me?” is certainly his question.   He sees himself as basically a good citizen and certainly not as bad as the worst people in society.  So he stews about what in his life makes him deserve the fate of dying prematurely.  He can find no logical explanation for what has happened.

“An explanation would be possible if it could be said that I have not lived as I ought to. But it is impossible to say that,” and he remembered all the legality, correctitude, and propriety of his life.”   (Ivan Ilych Tolstoy in “The Death of Ivan Ilych”, The World’s Greatest Short Stories, Kindle Location 1713-1714)


Ivan thinks he led a decent life.  He tried always to do the correct or legal thing.  Jesus might tell him he lacks the same thing as the rule who came to inquire of Christ: love for the other.  Goodness isn’t attained through perfunctory actions.  We have to love from the heart (see Matthew 18:35).  God’s love is transformational.