At that time, a ruler came to Jesus and asked him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother.’ ” And he said, “All these I have observed from my youth.” And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. Jesus looking at him said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.
What’s the point? Being free enough to give – that is the gift Jesus gives.
In this story a man comes to Jesus and says, “Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus says, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
Who is God in this story? It’s Jesus. Jesus IS God. Jesus does not say, “do not call me good because God is the only one who is good.” Jesus says, “Why do you call me good?” Jesus knows that this man suspects Jesus is God himself. And Jesus wants to push the man to go further.
This man who comes to Jesus wants to receive things. He wants the secret code to get eternal life. He wants a backstage pass. He wants into the VIP section, where the cool kids hang out. It’s like you might see in the movies a night club and there are like 100 people standing in line to get in, and a celebrity drives up in their limo, and get let in ahead of everyone else. No waiting in line for Beyoncé.
Maybe he was even prepared to pay for it. He knows that Jesus has something special, and this man just wants some of it. But Jesus wants this man to stop thinking about what he can buy or get or inherit. Jesus wants the man to give.
He says sell everything you have. All of it. Jesus wants this man to find freedom from his possessions. He wants to free this many from the loneliness of having something everyone else wants, and never knowing if your friends like you as much as they like your money. He wants to show this man how good a time you can have waiting in line with everyone else. He wants to give this man community, family, brotherhood, self-respect. And above all he wants him to have a purpose in life.
We can all see ourselves in the young rich man. We come to Jesus to get, and not to give. We come to get an experience of a familiar church service on Sunday. But often we don’t come prepared to give our time, money, and energy to give to others.
Or we come to church to receive the true facts, the right arguments,
but when we go about our lives during the week, we never give out anything like kind words, prayers and blessings.
A few weeks ago, we read the gospel passage about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man was the bad guy in the story because he didn’t feed Lazarus. Last week the rich guy was the bad guy because he horded his wealth. Now the rich man is – kind of – the bad guy in this story because he won’t sell his goods and distribute the money to the poor.
“It’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
So all of these Gospel readings basically say that rich people have to help poor people. There’s no way around it. That’s what they’re saying. I would be lying and hiding the truth from you if I didn’t discuss this.
The relationship between rich people and poor people is a really complicated thing. In the earliest church Christians lived in a community that had all possessions and all money in common. That was what was expected. Not only did people give all their money to the church, and live in community with everyone else, they also bought the freedom of slaves. And they took in unwanted children.
In the Roman empire, people would take unwanted children and leave them outside in the woods to die of exposure, or to be eaten by the animals. They reasoned, “if the gods want this child to live, let the gods take care of the child.” This happened more to girls than boys.
Christians would rescue the girls and take on the responsibility of raising the girls. And so there were a large number of women who, ironically, had found their freedom in the church. Because their biological parents gave them up, the women were not under any obligation to marry someone chosen for them. The could choose not to marry, something novel. And in this group of women we see the beginnings of female monasticism.
Salvation for someone who was a slave, and is no longer a slave, or for a child that was rescued from the woods, that kind of salvation is very practical. People felt that God had done a miracle for them. And God had done a miracle for them. But God also did a miracle for the rich people. God freed the rich people in these communities from slavery to their money.
When Jesus says, “it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God,” he doesn’t mean, “God is going to be sitting at the gate of heaven and refusing entry to all the rich people.” He doesn’t say they can’t get into heaven. He says it is hard for them to enter the Kingdom of God. But the Kingdom of God within us, in our midst, it is the Church, the redeemed family of God. It’s not just about where you end up in the afterlife, it’s about what community you enter into now.
It is hard for rich people to find themselves truly a part of same family as the poor. Jesus is saying salvation for the rich is when they are freed form the tyranny of their possessions.
It is truly difficult for rich people to break free. It’s hard to train your mind to think differently. To truly care about other people. To give up power and influence. To give up comfort. To give up financial security.
Jesus knows it’s hard. He is not saying, “you’re not good enough, rich person.” He is saying, “I understand that it seems impossible for you to actually follow me to the cross. But my strength is made perfect in weakness. You are not alone in this struggle. I am with you. And with God it ispossible!
But this takes us back to what we said in the beginning – do we really think Jesus is God? When we really do trust in Jesus we trust that investing our time and money in the church is a good investment for our children, just as good as a stock portfolio, or a trust fund or private schools.
The greatest possession you can have is to do the work of Jesus Christ. The greatest financial freedom you can ever achieve is the freedom to give fearlessly. The greatest success you can ever have is to obey Jesus Christ. The richest people in the world are the ones that know they need God.
I pray that God gives you the gift of feeling like you can’t get through life unless you come to church. I hope God will give your children a deep desire for more church, for more of Jesus.
Today we read from Ephesians:
Brethren, God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith;
Grace here means a gift, a voluntary act of generosity, as opposed to an obligation, as opposed to a contract. God is generous to us, and we should then be generous and give voluntary gifts.
and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God: not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
What good works of generosity, forgiveness and compassion has God prepared for you today?
This Advent we are supporting a charity that helps recovering addicts. And we are going to pray the serenity prayer, and I want you to think about the second part of the prayer.
The first part is: God grant me the serenity to accept that things I cannot change.
The second part is: and the courage to change the things I can.
What is the thing you can do, thing you can change, to give of your time, your money and your skill set to the church? How much courage is it going to take for you to make that change?
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
If you want to join St. Vincent’s efforts to support Teen Challenge, you can either earmark a check for that fundraising, or contact Rob at Teen Challenge directly: firstname.lastname@example.org