19th sunday after pentecost
today's lectionary readings
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
today's bach cantatas
bwv 96, "lord christ, the only son of god"
bwv 169, "god alone shall have my heart"
today's van gogh
the church at auvers, 1890
today's good news
i have good news for you today...
you don't need to be rich for God to accept you into his heavenly kingdom.the fellow who came to jesus in today's Gospel lesson had all those things. we call him the "rich young ruler"—he had wealth. he had youthful vitality. he had authority and seemed to be in control of his life. however, he somehow knew he didn't have it all, because he approached jesus with a question: "good teacher, what must i do to inherit eternal life?" the text indicates he may have been truly eager to find out the answer, because it says he "ran up and knelt before" jesus to ask his counsel.
nor do you have to be young and attractive.
nor do you have to have your act together.
to be honest, jesus' disciples were probably shocked at that. quite likely it took them by surprise. of all the people in the world, a man like this would be the last one they expected should have doubts that god accepted and favored him. didn't his life bear all the marks of god's blessing? surely if ever there was a righteous man, it would be someone like this! this is just the kind of guy every pastor loves to have in his church, every neighborhood loves to have as a resident, every community loves to have in its midst.
folks like you and me look at a fellow like this and we are humbled. why can't i be like him? why didn't i get all of his gifts and talents? straight-A student. president of his class. most likely to succeed. it all seems to come to him so easily. he gets all the breaks. he knows the right people. whatever he touches turns to gold. oh yes, and he is also a model religious person. (from my mouth to god's ear, i have a daughter who should meet this one!)
he doesn't seem to have what jesus is talking about—a place in the kingdom of heaven. he has recognized something different in jesus' teaching, a call to something beyond his culture's idea of success. his heart has been awakened to another reality, and suddenly, he wants more.
so he asks jesus, "what must i do to inherit eternal life?" in common fashion, jesus answers with questions of his own—"why are you asking me? you know god's commandments, don't you—the ones moses gave?" well, that was like asking a college graduate to recite his ABCs. he might have been insulted. surely, there must be something more, he might have thought. after all, i'm rich. young and vibrant. well-positioned in life. devout and faithful in my religion. what's left? there must be something more to it than that!
"ok, one thing." said jesus. "give it all up, and come, follow me."
there it was—the one option that was totally out of the question. this young man had been taught since infancy to be the right kind of person, to do the right thing, to pursue excellence in all the various areas of his life, to be wise with his choices so as to avoid the pitfalls of life, to diversify his investments, to build a solid life of integrity, diligence, and righteousness. and now jesus says to him, "do you really want to know what the life of the kingdom is all about? here's how you'll find out: leave your rich, young, in control life behind. throw it all away. turn your back on the whole endeavor and come with me; join my small band of disciples. oh, and by the way, we don't even have a place where we can lay our heads."
of course, the young man said no.
and the text tells us that with love, jesus watched him as he walked away. oh, i can hear some of us now. some of us are tempted to say, "that is just too bad. god could have really done something with a man like that!" and that statement shows that we still don't get it.
the fact is, nobody brings anything to the table when it comes to being accepted by god. if we want to be part of his new creation, his heavenly kingdom, we must get this straight—he is not looking for anything at all from us. a good portfolio and full bank account doesn't mean anything to him. he doesn't care if we're young and healthy and attractive and strong, or if we come to him all weak and broken-down. as for having our act together, being in control, having a good position in life—forget it. none of that matters. it's simply a matter of responding to jesus.
that's good news for most of us, for folks like you and me who would never be described as "rich young rulers". all i have to be is plain ol' me. all i have to do is receive jesus' invitation. all i have to do is give it all away. all i have to do is die.
you see, jesus is not in the business of recruiting the best and the brightest. he's in the business of raising the dead.