“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’”
Ok, there has GOT to be a mistake here! Someone, somewhere, must have made a translation error. I am sure the verse went something like this, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You’ve worked so very hard to get all of your money. You deserve to give yourself a treat. Go out on a shopping spree so you can show the world how much you have been blessed. And then, when you are comfortable, you can come and follow me.” That HAS to be the translation. The Bible says that Jesus loved the guy! When we love people, we don’t want them to be poor, do we? But there it is, “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor...” That is what Jesus says to those whom He loves.
I find it interesting that even people who claim to interpret the Bible literally will drive expensive cars and live in expensive homes. They seem ever ready to jump on the “literal” meaning of the Bible, except where it becomes difficult. And I should not be so quick to lay judgment upon others; aren’t we all like that? (I say this at the risk of tarnishing my liberal reputation) I heard Dr. Laura once say that we would all like to have OTHERS have a Biblical morality. We think it would be great if others followed all the rules in the Bible and followed all the Ten Commandments. But when it comes to us, we would like to have a little wiggle room. Ok, we would like to have A LOT of wiggle room! Living life is not easy. And trying to follow all the injunctions of the Bible is not easy. So it just seems cruel to lay all of these injunctions on top of a difficult life! If Jesus really loved the guy, Jesus would have been willing to let the young man spend all of his money, and Jesus would have made all of the man’s water into wine just to help ease the burden!
But that is not what we are told happened. Jesus loved the man, and in loving him, Jesus told the man to sell everything and give it to the poor. Then, after he sold everything and had nothing left, then, and only then, should the man come and follow Jesus. These are very uncomfortable words. And as I said before, words that even the most staunch Biblical literalist finds ways to avoid.
The effect these words of Jesus have should be very similar to the effect of last week’s gospel reading. We should be jarred by them. They are not what we would expect to hear and they should cause us to sit up and take notice.
Does Jesus really want the man to become poor? This seems kind of silly. He sells all he has and in the process becomes poor. It seems to kind of defeat the purpose. And yes, you would be right. But, Jesus, being the great psychologist that he is, knew how to make a point.
See, when talking to people, if you want to make a point and don’t want to offend people, you use a HUGE example. This allows people to get involved in the story and does not make them feel like the example is directed specifically at them. So in this case, Jesus is using the example of selling EVERYTHING to make a point.
So what is the point that Jesus is making? Well, once the man sells everything and gives it to the poor, it is then that Jesus tells the man to come and follow. Does that mean that Jesus wants us all to be poor? No. But it does mean that Jesus wants us to be in a state where we are ready to learn.
Have you ever tried to teach something to a “Know-It-All?” It is really difficult! Nick tells me stories about a guy where he works who will ask a question. Then, when Nick tries to answer it, the man says, “No, that is not right!” Nick wants to scream and say if the guy already knew the answer, why was he asking questions! Whether we want to admit it or not, we quite often approach our faith in this manner. We will go to God in prayer about something, but we already have the answer in mind. So when the answer comes to us, we are very ready to say, “No, that is not right!” We want God to answer our prayers, but we want them answered in the way that we already figured out!
I am sure the man in the gospel reading had some idea in mind when he asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. I am sure he had some kind of “To Do” list and was looking for Jesus to verify his ideas. I am sure he was not so much searching for truth as he was looking to have his ideas verified. But that is not what happened! In bringing his question before Jesus, the man had his world rocked! After his encounter with Jesus, I am sure the man would not look at the world in the same way again.
What Jesus told the man, in effect, was, “Everything that you consider to be important, is not!” Think about this! How would you feel if Jesus told you that the sacrifices you made raising your family were not important? How would you feel if Jesus told you that the money you contributed to charity was not important? How would you feel if Jesus told you that the time you donated to the homeless was not important? In all of these things, what you did was a good start, but was not enough? What YOU did was not important! How would that make you feel? I would guess it would probably make most of us feel pretty bad. And in the gospel reading, we see this very response; the young man went away grieving.
Now this seems cruel, and would be except for one thing: We are told that Jesus loved the young man. Jesus was not doing this to the man to be cruel to him, he was telling this to the young man because Jesus loved the man!
So, there has got to be some clues here to help us. If we look, we see that Jesus does have a plan for the young man. The young man, after removing all those things that he, the young man, thinks are important, can finally open himself up to those things that are truly important. It is only when the false idols, or maybe we could call them “False Securities” are gone that the man is finally able to follow Christ!
We are pretty self-reliant people. We want to be in control even if that control is an illusion. We want the lists and we want the ironclad contracts. We want to know exactly what we have to do to get into God’s good graces. We want to know just how many sins we can commit, or what type of sins to avoid, so we can be issued a heavenly harp upon our death. We want to be sure we have it all sewn up before we die. We don’t want to leave it up to chance! This was the mindset of the young man: How could he use his money to assure his place in Heaven?
And Jesus jarring response is the loving truth: You can’t use your money to assure a place in Heaven. Money can buy you a seat on the Heavenly Bus just as easily as it will allow a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Our money, our possessions, our talents will NOT assure us a place in the Eternal Kingdom.
So, what is our assurance? Well, for God, all things are possible. We have been given money, and gifts, and talents to use for the promotion of God’s reign on earth, but these are not what assures us of Eternal life. It is our faith in Christ in all things. It is our faith that if we release these things that we hold so dear and allow God to work through our lives, that we will find the life we have been looking for. It is in our faith that God will provide for our needs that we find the truth.
How is our wealth holding us back? I am not just talking about money here! We may have a wealth of insight. We may have a wealth of strength. We may have a wealth of caring. How are we holding onto these things as a means of ensuring that we will receive Eternal Life? How do we trust that God will not abandon us and just go out and give it away? That is not an easy question, is it? But that is the ideal Christ places before us. Christ wants us to be as extravagant with our gifts has God has been in giving us gifts! Our gifts are to be used and shared!
We have been assured eternal life through our Savior. We do not need to be searching for ways to save ourselves. Christ saves us through faith, which opens us for a whole realm of possibilities!! Do we wish to hang on to those things that we feel are important or do we want to follow our faith and find the true treasure?
This is the challenge placed before the man in today’s gospel, and this is the challenge placed before us. But we have one advantage! We know that Christ is raised from the dead and has saved us by his blood! This is the good news of the Gospel! This is the true treasure we can hang onto, even while we share it!