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You’ve heard me say it before: Jesus talked about money more than he talked about almost anything else. Jesus talks about money more than he does about heaven or hell; the only thing he talks about more is the reign of God.
In tonight’s passage, we hear the last of our “gospel voices” for Lent. At first, all we know about this young man is that he is eager to know what to do in order to have eternal life. Eternal life is a tricky concept. It’s one of those “already/ not yet” words. It is about the future, but it is about now as well. It is about abundant life, fullness of life, life in true communion with God… which we all are seeking, whether we know it or not.
Jesus’ answer is pretty straightforward. Keep the commandments.
The young man asks, which ones, which, I have to say, sounds like he’s trying to get out of something. He’s hoping, we can tell right away, that something will fall off the list. Jesus names six commandments, five of the traditional ten, plus one that serves as an umbrella for all the others: love your neighbor as yourself.
Our young man is relieved, for just a moment, because these, he is familiar with, and these, he has kept. He has, perhaps, a few seconds of elation. This is what he is hoping! Yet, he persists. Anything else?
Jesus gives him further instruction: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
And there it is. The thing that breaks his heart, because he just can’t do it.
What’s the one thing you can’t do for the love of God? The one thing you can’t give up? Let go of?
According to writer Richard Rohr, we all have something. We all, every one of us, find ourselves, back to the wall, in some way shape or form. And that is not so terribly surprising.
I’ll let him explain it to you.
I must be up front with you. I do not really understand why God created the world this way. I do not know why “power is at its best in weakness” as Paul says, or “it is when I am weak that I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). It sure seems like God is some kind of trickster…
… All I know is that it matches my own observation. I cannot pretend to understand God, but this is what I see: People who have moved from seeming success to seeming success seldom understand success at all, except a very limited version of their own. People who fail to do it right, by even their own definition of right, are those who often break through to enlightenment and compassion. It is still a mystery to me, and will still be a mystery for you, even if you read this book to the end. The big difference, and it is big, is that you will hopefully be able to accept and even revel in this cosmic economy of grace. It is God’s greatest surprise and God’s constant disguise, but you only know it to be true by going through it and coming out the other side yourself. You cannot know it by just going to church, reading Scriptures, or listening to someone else talk about it, even if you agree with them.
Until you bottom out, and come to the limits of your own fuel supply, there is no reason for you to switch to a higher octane of fuel. For that is what is happening! Why would you? You will not learn to actively draw on a Larger Source until your usual resources are depleted and revealed as wanting. In fact, you will not even know there is a Larger Source until your own sources and resources fail you.
Until and unless there is a person, situation, event, idea, conflict, or relationship that you cannot “manage,” you will never find the True Manager. So God makes sure that several things will come your way that you cannot manage on your own…[i]
Jesus used the metaphors of “a grain of wheat” or “a branch cut off from the vine” for [the] arrogant ego; Paul used the unfortunate word, “flesh,” which made most think he was talking about the body. So some bible translations now call it “self-indulgence,” which is much closer to the meaning. But both Jesus and Paul were pointing to the isolated and protected small self. And they both said it has to go: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it will yield a rich harvest” (John 12:24)…[ii]
… No one likes to die to who they think they are… Letting go is not in anybody’s program for happiness, and yet all mature spirituality, in one sense or another, is about letting go and unlearning. You can take that as an absolute…[iii]
For the rich young man, it was his many possessions.
For some of us, it’s a substance, like alcohol, or drugs or food. For some of us, it’s control over other people, places, things. For all of us: there comes a time when we are confronted with the question: What must we give up in order to have truly abundant life? What is standing between us and an experience of the one who seeks to be the light in our darkness, the flame to our chill, and the quenching water for our deperate thirst? What is it, finally, that stands between us and God? And can we let it go?
[i] Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2011), 2-3.
[ii] Ibid., 5.
[iii] Ibid., 6.