In the Name...
A math teacher asked his class the following: “A wealthy man dies and leaves eleven million dollars. One-quarter to his daughter, one-fifth to his son, one-sixth to his brother, and the rest to his wife. Now, what does each one of them get?" After a long silence, one boy raised his hand and answered, “A lawyer."
There's a serious temptation when facing this morning's Gospel to be either too strict, or too loose, about it and, either way, to say it doesn't apply to me and move along.
For example, we might take comfort that we probably don't have the great wealth this man had. When Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor, Jesus could not possibly have been talking to us. These words are really only for those super rich people, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, not us middle class. Or, on the other hand, possibly these words are just for that one man. After all, Jesus didn't tell everyone he met they had to sell all they had. Jesus didn't expect that of everyone and he surely does not expect that of us today. So, even if we are rich, we don't have to worry about this, either. Not my problem.
Well, that was easy. Not much more to say, is there? Before getting too comfortable, though, what if Jesus really has something to say to all of us in this Gospel this morning? Hmmm.
Why do we come to church? Are some of us seeking a closer relationship with God? Are some of us seeking direction to strengthen our spiritual lives? Are some of us seeking the means of grace and the hope of glory?
Certainly, those are all good reasons for coming to church. One hopes we don't come to church to "earn points". Surely we know we can't buy ourselves into heaven if we, for example, put a big cheque in the collection. Though I won't object if you want to try. But, seriously, aren't we all concerned with figuring out what it is we need to do to find ourselves in heaven one day?
This young man was. Look at his question. What must I do to ...to what.... What does it say?...to earn eternal life? No, to inherit, eternal life. Well, what do you have to do to inherit anything? Nothing. You just have to be in the family. This young man was seeking an assurance from Jesus that he was in the family, that he would be mentioned in the will, so to speak. He wanted to know from Jesus how he could be sure of his inheritance.
So, Jesus says, "Well, you know what the commandments say." And then proceeds to list a few of the Big Ten. And the young man says oh, he's kept all of them. No slip-ups. That's great. That's also quite an amazing claim because what are the Ten Commandments? They are ten examples which God gave the ancient Israelites of the way humans are to relate first to God and then to each other.
Jesus summed them up when he said love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbour as yourself and that's what they mean. They're not a checklist of specific things to do or avoid, they're about a whole attitude, a way of life. They're about our personal walk with God. They're not a way to behave as much as they're a way to be - and that's an important difference.
Someone once said that any idiot can do what God tells him to do. It takes faith to do what God doesn't tell you, but, what he would like you, to do. Let me repeat that. It doesn't take brains to do what God tells you to do. It takes work to figure out what he wants you to do.
So when this fellow says he's kept the commandments perfectly he's effectively saying that his walk with God, his relationship with his neighbour, his understanding of God's will, is absolutely perfect. And he's saying this to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Incarnate Word. Uh, huh.
It's almost comical. And Jesus smiled. Yes, he smiled. It says he looked at the young man with 'hagapete'. It's a word which can mean 'compassion', 'pleasure', or 'charity'. In any event, it implies some sort of affection.
For despite the fact that the young man claimed he was closer to the Father than was the Son, Jesus is not offended. Remember that when this fellow approached him and knelt before him he called him 'didaskale agathos', noble, worthy, teacher. He recognized that Jesus was someone of deep spirituality.
And it is in this context that Jesus said, "Sell all you have and give it away." Which means, "If you claim total spiritual perfection then you must be totally free from all earthly ties." It's a challenge for the young man to see that he has set himself an impossible standard. He wants to be more godly than God. Unfortunately, the young man doesn't get it. And it says he goes away, sad, because he had great possessions.
I want you to do something right now. I want you to reach in your pockets or in your purses or whatever and take out your keys. That's right; just take out your keys, all your keys. These are mine. And I want you to just look at them. Take a moment and look at them. You might have a house key or two, car keys, maybe a key to the office, or a desk, maybe even a church key. Of course, the purpose of a key is to lock something up, to secure something from others, to restrict access.
We each have other keys, keys we can't hold in our hands, keys we don't see as easily as these. Those are the keys to the areas and aspects of our characters, our personalities, our very selves, to which we restrict access.
We each have great possessions and possessions are not only material things. How often do we approach God seeking answers to our deepest questions while trying to hold on to our keys, restricting his access to our very being. It might be an attitude, a critical spirit, some prejudice, some resentment, a habit or relationship we know is hurtful. It might be an excess of zeal, a literalist approach, a refusal to see the other person's point of view.
The young man went away sad, but, no sadder than the Jesus he left behind. Jesus was sad, too. Sad that this eager potential disciple had some areas of his life locked up and wouldn't open them. And they prevented Jesus from working in him.
Yes, Jesus is calling all of us to get rid of some things, everything, in fact, which comes between us and him, the possessions in our lives which possess us. He knows that it's not easy, but, he also lets us know that if we do, there is a reward many times greater than whatever we've been clinging to.
All of us are in the family. The inheritance is ours. But, only if we want it more than what we already have. The choice, of course, is ours. May we not walk away from it.
In the Name...