In today’s Gospel we are set yet another demanding challenge by Jesus.
As last Sunday, we have the difficulty of trying to apply Christ’s demanding teaching to our lives in a modern world so vastly different from his in first century Palestine. Most of his hearers, like Jesus himself, came from poor backgrounds. In their poverty, they knew nothing of the relative comfort and prosperity in which we live today, even if we are up to our eyes in debt to fund our lifestyles.
The person who approached Jesus in today’s Gospel text is described as ‘a man of great wealth’. In modern terms he might not have had had enough to spend £16m a year shopping in Harrods … but he had enough to acquire most of the things that money could buy in those days.
He went to Jesus because there was a hole in his life that his prosperity could not fill. He recognized that ‘something’ was still missing. Perhaps he had learnt that it’s not until you have it that you realise money isn’t everything.
He said to Jesus: ‘Look, I am keeping the laws of my religion that you have quoted (all about how we treat people) but I feel this is not enough. What more do I need to do to have this ‘eternal life’ you speak about?’ St Mark records that when Jesus heard this, he looked ‘steadily at him and loved him’.
Jesus replied by saying: “Well if it’s perfection you are after, you must find your security not in yourself and what you own but in me. And to do this you need to let go of everything and everyone you hold dear and put me first. But this will cost you nothing less than everything.”
Understandably, the man found this too much and walked away. Wouldn’t most of us do the same?
At this point Our Lord said something that shocked his hearers. The presumption in those days was that personal wealth was a sign of God’s favour, and the more wealthy you were the more esteemed you were in God’s sight. Jesus turned this belief on its head when he declared that it is ‘hard’ for such wealthy people to enter his kingdom.
As I understand it, Jesus was saying that if your security in life is based on what you own and possess, then you have a false sense of security. Unless you ‘let go’ and abandon yourself completely to Him you will never have the ultimate fulfillment you desire. There is something of greater value to be gained than the acquisition of wealth but you will find it only in Him.
However, Jesus recognized that not everyone could do what he asked. So when the disciples protested that he was demanding too much, he added that while it might be impossible for us to make this sacrifice, ‘nothing is impossible to God’. We are not excluded from his kingdom because of our inability to be a perfect Christian – we might not be able to reach up to God’s height but his hand reaches down to lift us up.
Nevertheless, the challenge from Jesus remains. So in response we might ask:
- What can I let go of in my life in order to become closer to Him?
- How do I become sufficiently detached from what I possess so that what I own does not own me?
- Do I really need all that I possess?
- How many of the things that fill or clutter my home or my life are truly necessary?
- Could I put some of my money or wealth to better use than it currently does sitting in property or in a portfolio?
- Could I be more generous than I am in supporting the poor and the vulnerable?
- If I am not ‘well off’, could I give some time to helping a charity I admire do its work?
Whenever Christ met someone who could not live up to the ideals of his kingdom, He treated the person with understanding and compassion. He did the same with the wealthy man who walked away from Him. (By the way, did you notice that it was the wealthy man who was looking for perfection and not Jesus who was demanding it of him?)
Many of us would love to be better Christians and do more good but our messy lives and commitments get in the way. Just as Jesus never walked away from anyone, he does not walk away from us when we fail to live up to the values of his kingdom. Nevertheless, his challenge remains.
Holy Name, Jesmond
14 October 2018