The Rich Man
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?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You 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.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 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.” 22 When 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!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It 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.”26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus 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.”29 Jesus 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, 30 who 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. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
As a kid, I wanted to do the right thing. I found out early that if I say the right things, live the right way, do the right things, then I’d have some approval.
That’s how I lived life pretty much. I was a good kid.
I was also raised in the church, so I thought that doing the right things and believing the right ways, pleased God.
However, I also wanted to find a way to express myself, to gain the attention of others. So, I grew my hair long, and played bagpipes. But, still, did the things that I thought I should. I kept the commandments so to speak.
My senior year, things started to fall apart inside of me…and outside of me. I began to have deeper questions about life, relationships. It came to a head on a Campus Life ski weekend. I took a risk, shared with my adult leaders that I was struggling, I did all the right things but still felt lonely. I was asking, in essence, what could I do to enter the kindgom of God, to be in God’s Presence, to feel God’s favor…because, I was doing the stuff, but not feeling approval.
My club leaders began to share with me that it was more about relationship. That God’s Presence was there, but it couldn’t be earned, just lived in. That relationship was filled with grace and love, that love and grace eventually began to have a transformative effect on me as I grew in my awareness of God’s Presence. It also pulled me towards a calling to be and do who I am and what I do.
Our gospel lesson this morning is similar. The rich young ruler came to Jesus, asking what to do to enter the Kingdom of God. He first calls Jesus “good”. Jesus pushes back, and says why call me Good, only God is good…in essence, saying that goodness is about God and we live in that goodness.
Jesus goes on to say, obey the commandments. The young rich ruler, says that he has, since his youth. Jesus looks at him with love the scripture says. He loved this kid, not because of what he had done, but simply because of him being him. Plus, the kid was honest. Jesus then says that he lacks one thing, sell all that he had, give to the poor, and follow him. A disciple could not have the distractions of patronage and financial obligations that came with being a man of wealth, they needed to be willing to be committed and setting aside all of the trappings of status and self importance. Even though this young ruler was pious and devout, he was unwilling to surrender and allow God’s love to run its course in his life.
This was hard…it’s really hard to give up anything that we hold on to that we draw our identity from, wealth, our roles that we play, the persons that we project to be to others. Yet, Jesus is telling him that true wealth, true identity, is measured by how well we love others and experience God through relationships, especially with those on the margins, those that are seeking community, yet have been left out.
The rich young ruler leaves Jesus heartbroken, he can’t let go of what he has or who has become or perceives himself to be…the disciples are perplexed, they don’t know what to say, they focus on the material wealth and ask more questions. Jesus says that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than to get into heaven. It’s often said that Jesus is referring to merchants coming to a city gate at night. They can’t get into a walled city then because the gates are closed, but there are smaller doors that the can get into called the “eye of the needle”. They have to take everything off the camel, all of their goods, in order to enter. Most scholars would say that’s not the case at all, Jesus is literally talking about a life size camel and a real needle. It’s impossible.
In essence, we can’t take “stuff” with us, material stuff or the personal baggage of image that we’ve created….and image that does not remind us that we are made in the image of God… We have to be willing to share our material stuff as well as our personal lives with others…in essence, to be willing to not hold on to stuff, to give it away, as well as to not hold on too tightly the realities that we’ve created, but to be willing to give ourselves away, to let God’s love probe deeper into our lives, and to be shaped by that love.
When the disciples still question and ask, how can anyone get into God’s Presence, into heaven? Jesus says that with God all things are possible. What seems impossible with all that we know and understand, with God, there is possibility. God wants to spark our imagination, give us hope, but it takes a commitment and a desire from us to risk everything.
I believe that Jesus was telling this young man, just like my club leaders told me 37 years ago, let go of my desire to seek God’s approval by things that I have or do, but to know that I have God’s approval already, that God looks at me like Jesus does to the rich young ruler, with love. My response is hopefully not to shy away, but to rise to the invitation to enter into trusting God with all that I have and to imagine the possibilities that God can open within me and outside of me.
The disciples state that they’ve left everything to follow you Jesus. Jesus responds that they will be rewarded with even more relationships and with eternal life…which starts now.
Friends, I find this to be so true. Last weekend in Atlanta, and this week here in Cincinnati, I was blessed beyond measure with conversations, surprising, unplanned conversations with friends in Atlanta, the community and with friends here in the church. I am blessed, you are blessed. We have relationships! Are we willing to walk into God’s vision for us as a church, as a community, and away from our visions of what church should be? If we are willing, if we give up all to follow Jesus’ way of love and relationship with others and with those on the margins, then we will experience God’s Presence, God’s kingdom in even more beautiful ways!