Monday, October 15, 2018
It is a reasonable question; “What must I do to inherit eternal life?
We don’t know what lies behind the question of the man who knelt before Jesus. It might be a Biblical way of saying “What’s it all about, Jesus? What is the meaning of my life? Why am I here? What does God ask of me? And ultimately, what happens to me when I die? What happens to those I love when they die?”
Interestingly, the idea of eternal life for Jesus hinges on the simple directness of the Ten 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.”
The young man is obviously an observant Jew; “I’ve done all these things since I was a youth.”
Jesus “looked at him and loved him”. Notice that! He “looked at him and loved him.” I hope you know that Jesus “looks at you and loves you”.
Then Jesus tells the man what sounds near impossible to the disciples as well as to the young man.
Eternal Life you say? “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.”
The man was shocked and went away in sorrow we’re told, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around to his disciples; “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.”
It is physically impossible to put a camel through the eye of a needle. Hard enough to thread the thing. My grandmother used to say; “Here take your young eyes and thread this for me.” But a camel?
Jesus often used the literary device we call “hyperbole”; namely exaggeration to make a point.
On the other hand, there are those who say that there was a gate into Jerusalem called the “Eye of a Needle”. I like the story whether its true or not. The gate as it was described in “Biblical folklore” was such that you could only fit a camel into it if the cargo on the beast were left behind and it were to crouch down and squeeze through. This would be a laughable sight, and if true would emphasize Jesus’ sense of humor.
The point of the hyperbole, whether literal or figurative, and the joke that Jesus tickles us with, is to direct us to a teaching.
So too, here. Does Jesus mean literally to sell what you own and give it all away? Or is Jesus pointing us away from greed and toward sharing and generosity? Especially, when we see people in poverty, need and in the midst of catastrophic despair?
Our brothers and sisters in the Florida panhandle are in desperate need. There needs to be an urgent and wise distribution of aid to help folks in the wake of yet another hurricane. It needs to be abundant and swift, but it also needs to be careful. God knows human chicanery inserts itself into the mix, given the presence of mugwumps and scalawags in plentiful supply whenever there is such a disaster.
Giving away all that we have does not mean a mindless transfer of wealth from one to another, it means an intelligent, wise and timely sharing of our resources that results in a just sharing of wealth among us all, without fostering dependency or falling victim to fraud. Now that is tricky business.
The disciples were greatly astounded at this teaching and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them, again with love, and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
And that’s the point. For us eternal life is impossible, but not for God.
More and more, as we put our lives into the hands of God, we discover that everything becomes possible, including eternal life.
Today’s Epistle puts it this way; “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
As we turn our lives over to God, a life changing process begins continues and ends in God. And in the end, it begins again!
For Jesus, eternal life begins in keeping the commandments. Then it morphs into a generosity that inspires economic justice. And then ultimately, eternal life becomes the sacred hope we all live in that as Jesus dies upon the cross, so too he rises again in the power that vanquishes sin and death.
Eternal Life is about Baptism. It is about the way God brings us out of sin and death and into eternal life! Renouncing the wickedness of this world and establishing the kingdom of God’s Love. It is about finding our way out of judgment and blame and into forgiveness and reconciliation both for ourselves and others.
A young man once came up to me and asked me to baptize his little girl. He was not a church goer. His wife and her parents attended, but curiously he was the one to ask the question of me. The answer was obvious but still I wanted to know more about the young fellow. I invited him out for a cup of coffee so we could fill out the forms and tend to the formalities.
Come to find out, he was an up and coming attorney in a respectable law firm. As we conversed I noted that I did not see him in church very often. With tiresome predictability he said that believed in God, it was just organized religion he didn’t believe in.
Folks I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that exact turn of phrase. On this day, when I heard it, something in me finally snapped!
I took a sip of my coffee, I looked at the young man and said; “Let me ask you a question; Do you believe in democracy?”
“Yes, of course I do” he replied.
“Well then, if that’s the case you have to have Congress and you also have to have Politicians, good Lord deliver us!” In other words “You have to organize your democracy into a human institution, and I might add, you may be a bit disappointed in what you end up with.”
That seemed to take some of wind out of his sails. I took another sip of coffee. Sensing I had achieved the advantage, I pressed the case.
I said; “Do you believe in Justice?”
“Obviously”. By now he was beginning to see where I was headed.
“In that case you will have to have courts, judges, and a-hem, a-hem, you will have to have whole gaggle of lawyers!”
In other words you will have to organize Justice into a human institution.
So then, whether it is Democracy, Justice, or God, there has to be some way of organizing our beliefs into human institutions or we loose all that we’ve worked so hard to establish through the centuries.
Alas, I still didn’t see him in church very often, even after the baptism. Fair enough, I don’t consult an attorney either unless I absolutely have to!
Eternal Life? It is about immersing ourselves into the lives we live in a way that makes clear what we believe in. To be the best we can be at who we are and what we do! I believe in the ways of God. Loving God and one another. Accepting God’s forgiveness and freely offering it to others. Finding ways to reconciliation between ourselves and God and among those of us who are at odds with one another.
And yes I believe in Democracy and Justice, even if I am dismayed at what’s become of it from time to time. But only by our involvement, only by plunging our hands into the muck and mire of it can any good thing come out of it.
This is what God did when he sent Jesus into the world. Talk about plunging your whole Being into the muck and mire of it…that is who Jesus is for us. And it is out of the sin and sorrow of this sullied old world that Jesus stood upon the Cross stretching out his arms on hardened wood so that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace. (~from the Book of Common Prayer, page 101.)
This is Eternal Life; that we too may reach out our arms of love on the cross; the one we take up every day when we seek to follow Jesus. No one is excluded! All are invited! Everyone is welcome!
God made us all. God saved us all. God makes us all holy…if only we say “Yes” to him who first said “Yes” to us. And then we shall have firm hold on Eternal Life!
In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.