Year B Proper 14 WEDNESDAY, 11 August 2021
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA (Streaming and In-Person)
“Life is not a Game”
Collect: Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 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; Honour your father and mother.” ’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 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.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
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!’ 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! 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.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ 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, 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. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’
This is one of many passages that so many of us think we know. We often cite it, or think of it referring to how we should live our lives often. But I think, too often, we think we know what is happening and being said.
But before I get into that, I want to start where Jesus starts.
Jesus and the disciples are walking, and out of nowhere, a desperate and hurting young man runs up and asks what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus looks at him and says that he knows the commandments, the foundational requirements of the faith. If you believe, then this is how you should behave. We even have them posted on our walls for that very reason. They are good. They always will be. It speaks to some of the primary flaws of the human condition, the peccadillos we go to when we forget to care for each other and our relationship to God.
Then, after Jesus names some of them, it says something so important. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” Friends, that is the foundation of ministry. We meet people, and however they are, wherever we find them or they find us, we love them.
In love, Jesus says to this particular individual,
“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.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
He said he wanted eternal life, but Jesus saw his blind spot. And he called him out on it. He was more obsessed with the things of this world, the baubles of riches, than he was about eternal life. He used his commandment obedience as a way of keeping score. He thought of eternal life as winning the game.
Philosopher and Theologian Dallas Willard was asked what the Gospel of Jesus was. His response, listen closely, was “The Gospel of Jesus is getting into heaven before you die.” Before. Making the Kingdom of Heaven, here, now. “On earth as it is in heaven.” Further in the interview he said, “Grace is not opposed to effort; it’s opposed to earning. Effort is action; earning is attitude.”
The man wanted to earn his way into eternal life. Jesus, I believe, wanted him to let go of that being-blessed-equals-being-rich theology we still are stumbling over 2,000 years after Christ and his Gospel of Grace. Even Peter and the other disciples were wrestling with this. What’s in it for us?
Somewhere along the way we have to shift to doing things to be Christian, but transition to being like Christ more and more and more. Daily, we take up our cross, that gift only we can give to the world, and follow in our master’s footsteps.
For this man, it was his possessions. He left grieving because he had a lot. What is it that gets in my way of following Christ all the more? Possessions? Thoughts? Self-Image? Past Trauma? Ideology? Politics? The Cost? As individual as our fingerprint, we all have one or a myriad of ways to avoid living lives in the Kingdom of God here and now. “How hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!” Jesus said. Not all the oldest manuscripts have, “How hard it is for the rich…” Jesus knows it is hard for all of us.
But that is what Christ wanted for the Man, and his disciples, for you, for me. He wants eternal life for us, and he wants it for us now. The Great Reversal, the last shall be first, and the first last. The “Winners” are Losers, and the Losers Win. Choose you this day whom you will serve. Amen