Last week we looked at grace and the abandonment of entitlement in terms of our relationship with God and others. Jesus took the image of children reliant upon their father for their place in the world and reminded us we are to abandon ourselves entirely to God for the outcome of our lives.
Living in a modern, comfortable and affluent society such as Australia we may find this to be most difficult step to take; to completely give up any claim we have on our lives and to trust entirely, without reservation on God and God’s grace may ask just a little too much for us. Reputation, bank balance, possessions, children and public image take the place of God, ever so slightly, until we simply do not need God nor include the faith and God in our day to day life.
“We have all we need, without God. And anyway all God would ask of us is to share it with others who are lazy, won’t work, sneak into our country through the backdoor and more. We deserve everything we have because we worked for it, scrimped and saved, studied hard, got promoted and put our career/wealth/image before anything else. As a self-made person I simply have no need for God. What more could God have given me than what I already have?”
An earnest and keen person runs up to Jesus. He has some questions he wants answered; actually he has one question above all others that needs to be answered: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus looks at him and chastises him for over familiarity and presumption, providing a reminder of the condition of all human beings; we are flawed, not perfect and therefore not good. Only God, the creator of all, is good.
Whyatt, a veritable bundle of uncontrollable energy, bound up and said ‘Hello Father Glenn.” Hello Whyatt, how are you? “I am good Father Glenn”. ‘Whyatt’s good or well?” “Good, Father Glenn”. “Does Whyatt know what good means?” And referring to this text I reminded him of what it means to be good, half way though he looked at me and said, “Whyatt’s well!”
Not only do we sometimes have a rose coloured opinion of ourselves, we have the same for others. The earnest man was appealing to the public image of Jesus; Jesus questioned the validity of such an opinion. “How well do you know me? Are you not being a little overfamiliar? And how do you judge what is good?”
Jesus doesn’t allow him to answer. Jesus has seen all this before and goes straight for the jugular. “I know, you have kept the letter of the law while amassing economic riches and moral brownie points for good behaviour and shrewd business acumen, but that is not enough. What was the purpose of your astute business dealings and your proper attention to the law? What were you trying to achieve? Did you think that being successful within the constraints of the law excuses you from the sacrifices that goodness will extract from you?”
He knew the earnest man would have tithed, given alms, supported all the appropriate funds and appeals and practiced his faith strictly within the guidelines set. This was no part-time religious person. Faith and religion were the pillars holding up his life. Those around would have known that too.
There was a fair chance they would have looked up to his upright and devout citizen and striven to emulate his behaviour and practice. If wealth and right practice were not sufficient to enter eternal life, then the must have wondered what they had to do? If this pillar of society had not done enough, what about them?
Jesus understood the power money and possessions (wealth) has over human beings. We fear being without possessions, without money, without the resources to participate in the consumer society we live in. While we do not have the resources of a Bill Gates, Gina Rinehart, James Packer, Andrew Forrest our even our Prime Minister, we often perceive that what we have is both ours and deserved, and that we are to hang on to it at all costs.
Stacey Simpson repositions the question the rich man asks, “What must we do to inherit eternal life? (and suggests) We must let go of all that we have and all that we do that gets in the way of seeing that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves.” Gerry Pierse, adds: “The issue here is not so much the acquisition of riches as the attachment to them.”
The earnest man was aware something was missing. Life didn’t have the x-factor, that special something which could only be described as eternal, ever-lasting, unfailing, all ways present. With all his wealth, possessions and strict observance, his life lacked that essential something. How frustrating; to be a self made man held in high esteem for his diligence and faith an, all along, being aware it wasn’t enough.
This was not about heaven, life after death. This was about life here and now. Remember, for the Jewish people there was only one resurrection and that took place at the end of time. You could store up treasure there but you had to live out the kingdom of God here and now. Eternal life is a substantive quality, not a destination, and he knew he was missing it.
The answer he receives was not the one he wanted to hear. He wanted affirmation, to hear Jesus say, ‘Well done Good and Faithful friend. You have done it all.” Instead Jesus says let go of your dependency upon self, your achievements and the fragility of wealth. This is about paying it forward, giving it away. It is about a sacrificial involvement in the world that asks us not to count the cost of giving, and not to rejoice in the good our giving may do, but to give until we are at peace with ourselves. That is eternal life.
This is about what we hold onto for ourselves in relationships, partnerships, community, churches and workplaces out of fear that to give up our ownership of self and possessions (the extensions of self we value ourselves by). Mark has Jesus calling us out on this reluctance to commit through the example of an upright and upstanding citizen who so much wanted to be good himself.
What might this look like in our lives:
Taking the time to reflect on, not on what we give, to the church, our relationships, our communities but on what is out of bounds, untouchable, held in reserve.
Being honest about our reticence to loosen the purse strings and respond without fear to the ask for funds at church and by those less well off than ourselves;
Placing ourselves in the position of those who are in poverty and respond as we would like others to do if the situation was reversed;
Honestly looking at the reasons we give and to accept that it is about fear, we are afraid to give up something in case we might need it later.
Understanding the dichotomy within us – we say can rely on the God who is within us for our salvation but then we baulk at that very same God providing sufficiently for our daily needs.
Steven Albertin suggests eternal life is experienced because “…. we GET TO be generous and gracious with our lives, pouring ourselves out and giving ourselves away to those in need, (not as charity but as empowerment).”
It’s a shame the earnest man walked away. It would be a shame if we did the same.