October 10, 2021
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” ’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, 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.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
28 Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ 29Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’” ***
Our thinking sometimes gets the best of us. Have you ever walked away from a situation because in your mind you believed that you did not measure up or could not live up to the standard held there? Or missed an opportunity because it did not look, sound or feel like you thought it should?
In today’s Gospel the man who comes to Jesus with an eternal life question lets his thinking get the best of him. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” he asks. To which Jesus responds, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Then as if to test this man’s thinking, Jesus ticks through the commandments. The man is certain he has kept all the commandments since he was a kid.
Throughout history, people have perpetuated the dangers of believing that God is impressed with what we think we know. Such attitudes lead people who profess belief in Jesus to conclude they have all the bases covered concerning proper status with God, the right ways of thinking, believing and acting. This has resulted in millions of people being hurt, excluded, judged, maimed, and even killed by religious people and groups who believe they have the corner on defending or enforcing their thinking regarding Jesus.
The questioner this day tells Jesus, “I’ve been doing those commandments since my youth.” In other words, congratulate me, I have done everything right. In his mind he has all the heavenly entry requirements covered. So, what else must be done to inherit eternal life? Jesus, I have done this. There is nothing else to do. I have been a good church member all my life. I have taught Sunday School, been on the church council, made weekly offerings and even chipped in a little more at the year end when the church coiffeurs were short. I am commended by the commandments. Been there. Done that. Would you give me the pass for heaven someday so I might have that secured, another achievement crossed off my to-do list?
At this point we are told that Jesus “looks at the young man and loves him.” See here the loving gaze of a God who cherishes our earnestness, our fervor, our trying. And our folly.
But notice that Jesus’s love does not leave the young man where he is, deluded in his thinking. In other words, Jesus’s love does not prioritize the young man’s comfort over his misguided thinking and self-assessment. Jesus’s love is provocative. It ties with a mission. Even as it offers unconditional welcome, it also offers overwhelming challenge.
Imagine how easy it would be for Jesus to secure his new convert by mincing words and tamping down expectations: “What? You have already followed the commandments for years? Excellent! And you are already calling me ‘good’? Then you must know who I am because only God is good! Wow! I am so impressed! You’re in!”
Or at the very least, Jesus could work in increments, easing his new convert into the values of God’s kingdom: “How about you write a small check to charity this year? Nothing that will break the bank. Just a token.”
But no. For Jesus, love is decisively, even cuttingly active. It directs and produces. Precisely because he loves the young man so much, Jesus gives him a mission. Here is the truth that God’s love moves and entails acting in benevolent ways. “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.”
“You lack one thing.” Ouch. I fear I lack much more than one thing. How about you?
But what exactly does this fellow lack? Of course, there is all kinds of irony here, because in the end, by material standards, society’s standards, and the measures of the world that have determined the criteria for abundance and blessing, he lacks nothing — nothing at all.
Does he lack an ability to care for the poor? Does he lack a consciousness of another’s scarcity? Does he lack the ability to appreciate his abundance and act benevolently with it?
This story has ambiguity and some irony in it. But let’s take Jesus literally here for a moment and think about our own lives. We do have too much. We do lack consciousness regarding the needs of others. We have not given out of our abundance. Which leads us to thinking that it is comfortable to stand behind Jesus’ injunctions against rich people. How often do we quietly, secretly chide or envy those who have wealth they hold to tightly?
Instead, using Jesus’ metaphor of needle and camels, we are quick to think about wealthy people, “With all their money, good luck getting through the eye of a needle.” Yet all the while, we secretly wish we had wealth. Or at least more than we have.
And suddenly we have managed to escape Jesus’ words “you lack one thing.” But wait, I don’t have money like the guy in this story, so Jesus isn’t talking to me.”
You lack one thing. It is so easy for us to view the concept of lack in only physical things, material categories, as if lack is only determined by an absence of wealth. This is not to say that Jesus isn’t teaching about money, wealth, and what you do with it. Clearly there is a message that wealth has a way of doing something to us and that something is usually not viewed as having a positive effect. Wealth steers our glance inward, to stoke our individuality, to set our sights on our own abundance with nary a thought about securing someone else’s.
Yet, for the man who has too much, there is another part to his problem. He knows only to ask Jesus about safeguarding his eternal life without any 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.
Where do you locate your abundance? Where does your abundance come from? Do you make it possible? Has your thinking gotten the best of you?
Lack takes on many forms in our life. This story asks us to ponder how we might complete the sentence, “I lack _________.”
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 witness, the disciple, the servant, the donor God wants you to be? “You lack one thing.”
But lest I leave you with the law, the good news in this story occurred early. Go back and read the first half of verse 21.
So, while you ponder how to fill in the blank above, there is one thing you do not lack — for God is looking at you and already in love.