As [Jesus] 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.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This text seems pretty straight-forward. In order to have treasure in heaven, you have to sell everything you own and give all that money to the poor. Then, after you’ve done that, follow Jesus. You have to do that because if you have wealth, it’s impossible to enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus can’t really mean give everything away, can he?
What if he does? What if that’s what it took to be a disciple of Christ? What if Jesus meant this as a requirement to enter the kingdom of God? How would we deal with that?
I’m just going to leave you with that to wrestle with. If you believe this text is a command to give everything you own to the poor, why aren’t you doing it? And if you don’t believe that, why not?
Take that home and wrestle with it, and if that’s all that happens today, it’s a very successful day!
But I want to bring something else into this discussion also. I wonder if Jesus is telling this rich young man that the “one thing” he lacks isn’t the giving away of his possessions. I wonder if what he lacks is an awareness of other people around him. Hear me out on this.
Jesus doesn’t just tell him to get rid of his wealth and his possessions. He specifically tells him to give them to the poor. I wonder if it’s not his wealth that’s the problem, but the insulation his wealth allows him to live in.
Think about that. Our world has certain attitudes about wealth that we all buy in to, to some degree. The danger of wealth is that it lures us into believing we are totally self-sufficient. It gives us a false belief that we don’t need anyone else. The temptation of wealth is that it provides a power that turns us away from others and in on ourselves.
If you’re rich enough, you can afford to live a life separated from people who are different. You can live in a gated community that keeps “those others” out. You don’t have to go places where you encounter anyone who makes you uncomfortable.
Jesus calls out this rich young man to save him from falling prey to the narcissism of wealth that blinds him to others. He exposes this wealthy man’s self-centeredness because it blocks his ability to love others outside of his own small circles. In commanding him to sell everything and give the money to the poor, Jesus is demanding that this young man look beyond his own self and turn towards others—others that he wouldn’t have to encounter if he remained protected by his money.
So Jesus pushes this man away from the insulating protection of his money out towards awareness of the people around him.
That’s what we all want. With or without money, we want that insulated self-reliance. Everyone wants to live without having to rely on anyone else. But the inherent danger of self-reliance is the same one Jesus warns the young man about: self-reliance separates us from real awareness of others.
What matters to Jesus, it seems to me, is that we become aware of others—take them seriously, listen to them, and make their gifts and their needs part of our lives too.
Which is why it’s so painful to hear complaints about worship style. When we are so isolated that we live as if our own personal needs are the only ones that matter, we miss out on the opportunity to support someone else at LCM who experiences worship differently. When we complain about worship, we lack one thing, Jesus says. We lack an awareness of the spiritual needs of the person who might be sitting next to us right now.
An awareness of others. It’s not just money. It’s not just worship style. It’s whatever it is that insulates us from the people around us. It’s whatever it is that make us think someone else’s needs don’t matter. It’s whatever it is that causes us to believe that the other person has nothing to offer us. We lack one thing, Jesus says. An awareness that our own lives aren’t the only ones that matter.
We have an opportunity to step outside of that which insulates us from others and into a deeper awareness of others. Today we turn in our Estimate of Giving cards. We tend to think of these as the church asking us for money—and, well, it is. But it’s so much more than that. Today we can get help with this one thing we lack. This is a tangible way of saying that our own lives aren’t the only ones that matter in God’s kingdom. We are concretely taking the needs of others into account and standing up with them. We do make a financial commitment, but in so doing we are stating clearly that other people matter too because we’re giving money away for the sake of the people around us. We are taking a step to overcome this one thing we lack. And this year we’re offering, all at the same time, several opportunities to commit to others beyond ourselves. Participation in worship isn’t just about what we get out of it, it’s about supporting one another in community with Christ—recognizing that others need you and you need others. Spiritual growth through scripture and prayer, both personally and communally, push us beyond ourselves into a deeper awareness of what God is doing.
Jesus looks at us today, loves us and says, “You lack one thing; go, step outside of yo