20 Pentecost, Proper 23 – October 11, 2015
A man knelt down before Jesus and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Mark tells us that the man went away grieving, because he was shocked by what Jesus had to say: “…sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” We are never told what happened to that man?
Let’s imagine that we’ve found an old, old journal and in it are the musings of an old man looking back on his life and thinking about the things he’s done and lived through. It’s the journal of the man we just heard about. He never stopped thinking about his meeting with Jesus.
Jesus dared him to become a new creature; defined in a new way, to trade in all the words that have described him up to now – wealthy, committed, cultured, responsible, educated, powerful, obedient – to trade them all in on one radically different word, which is free.
You see, he writes, the opposite of rich is not poor. The opposite of rich is free. He was not free to take the hand of Jesus because his hand was too full of his things and his love of things. He might as well have had a ball and chain around his leg. He was not free to follow Jesus.
In fact, the meaning of “rich” may have less to do with how much money one has as it does with what our attitude is about the money we have. Some people have a lot of money but they are not enslaved by it; others have very little but they cling to it with desperation.
Those things we think we must have, those things that we think we cannot live without–do we possess them, or do they possess us? Yesterday’s luxuries tend to become today’s necessities
Harold Kushner notes in When All You’ve Ever Wanted is Not Enough, “Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through.”
There was once a trusting abbot who was taken aback by the spiritual progress of a young disciple. The abbot let the disciple live in his own lean-to down by the river. Each night he would wash his one robe and put it out to dry. One morning he was dismayed to find that the rats had torn his robe to shreds. He begged for another from a nearby village, only to have the rats destroy that one as well. He got a cat, but he found he had to beg for milk for the cat. To get around that, he got a cow; but of course that meant he had to have hay. He got the hay from the fields around his hut. He had to get workers to help. Soon he was the wealthiest man in the region. Several years later, the abbot comes back to find a mansion in place of a hut. He asked the monk what was the meaning of all this? “Oh Holy Abbot, there was no other way to keep my robes.” The more we are wrapped up in ourselves, the further we move from God and what God wants of us. Every self-serving obligation prevents us from helping another, from being a part of the transforming of the world around us.
The journal continues: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” Jesus really saw him. Maybe Jesus sees that all this guy has – his knowledge of the law, his perfect piety, his abundant wealth – has distorted his sense of himself, and of God, and of his neighbor. And so he thinks that Jesus tells him to divest so that he can really live by faith in God and in solidarity with neighbor for the first time in his life, which would be like having, when you think about it, treasure in heaven.
He writes about the realization that he was only asking about safeguarding his eternal life without concern for that of others. “What must I do,” he asks. He is unable to see that the potential to experience eternal life might very well lie outside of his own doing. He is incapable of recognizing that abundance may very well be found outside of the wealth and riches he has stored up. He insists that what he has procured is irrelevant to who he is or who he thinks he wants to be.
“Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through.”
So, where do you locate your abundance? Where does your abundance come from? Do you trust only yourself to make it possible? Lack takes on many forms in our life. This story asks us to ponder how we might complete the sentence, “I lack _________.” But the issue of lack takes on a particular meaning in this story — it is that which prevents you from a full expression of faith. What is the one thing that is at the core of who you are, what keeps you from being the follower, the disciple, the believer, the witness God wants and needs you to be? This is a terribly difficult question to answer.
But Jesus still looks at us – as he looked at the rich man – each and every one of us and truly sees us. And Jesus loves us. What if God isn’t only concerned about our eternal destiny but also cares about the life we enjoy here and now, with each other in God’s creation. If that’s true, then maybe God’s gift of salvation can actually free us to do something: to love each other, to care for God’s people and the world, to share the good news…right here, right now, wherever it may be that God has placed us. Not from any hope of winning God’s favor, but from a spontaneous kind of basking in God’s favor. Jesus dares us to become new creatures – to be free. Amen.