I have mentioned to you before that I use the Revised Common Lectionary when I am preparing sermons. The lectionary is a collection of biblical passages, Old, New, and Psalms for each Sunday of the church year. The lectionary runs in a three-year cycle starting the first Sunday of Advent when the new church year begins. I tell you all of this, so you know that I did not choose this gospel passage about selling all you have and giving to the poor of this the Sunday we begin our Stewardship campaign, it was God ordained that I preach from this passage today!
With that said, however, I will tell you that this passage is not about rich people who have to sell everything they own in order to follow God. It’s not about poor people who will be the beneficiaries of the largess from the aforementioned rich people. No, it’s not even about trying to shove a camel through the eye of a needle, I have eight years of higher education, and I have no idea what that means…. Nope, this Gospel is not about any of that today’s gospel, simply put, is about you, and me, it’s about all of us, and it is about taking the first step, and it’s about having compassion.
Let’s back up for a minute. So a young man, a rich young man, runs up to Jesus and kneels before him. With bowed head, he asks Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, being Jesus, does not answer the question straight away he reforms the question, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” However, then he moves on. “You know the commandments…” Jesus then lists a few, possibly as a reminder, murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, defrauding, honor your father and mother….
The man looks at Jesus and says, “Teacher,” notice he no longer calls him the good teacher, “I have kept all of these since my youth.” Jesus looked at him, I bet he looked him right in the eye, but with compassion, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; the come, follow me.”
The man stood, pondering what he had just heard and scripture tells us what happened next, “he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” And just like that, we never hear about him again.
Now, most commentators on this passage believe the man went away sad because he had a lot of stuff and he did not want to sell it all. I mean, after all, he worked hard and earned his stuff. He liked his stuff, and he liked to show off his stuff. However, I, like a small minority of commentators and scholars, I always seem to fall into the “small minority of commentators group” suggest another possibility. What if the man did not go away “grieving” because he had a lot of stuff that he did not want to sell, what if he went away grieving over the all that stuff because he just did as Jesus said? What if he sold everything and was mourning that loss?
Let that sink in for a moment.
Here’s another point. When the man asks Jesus what he must do Jesus lists off the commandments that he must follow, in other words, Jesus quotes the law to him. The man replies that he has followed the law since his youth. However, Jesus tells him he lacks something…. So apparently following the letter of the law is not enough you can follow the law to the “t” but if you’re a jerk, for example, you’re out. You see for Jesus it is no longer about strict adherence to the law for Jesus tells us, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
I have mentioned to you before that I officiate at many weddings and the most common wedding reading comes from 1 Corinthians 13. This is the love chapter that Paul has written, and it is a beautiful summation of what love is but listen to the words at the start of the chapter:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
If we do not have love, we are nothing, and we have nothing.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not easy. Being a follower of Jesus Christ means we have to love everyone no matter what. We have to love everyone without qualification because that is the way God loves us, without qualification. How much does od love us? God loves us too much that, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Whoever, not whoever and….. Just whoever believes shall not perish but have eternal life.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not easy; we have to give up our stuff. We have to give up our prejudice towards others. We have to give up our hatred towards others, yes, including our enemies. We have to give up our ideas that we, even as Christians, are better than others. We have to give up our ideas that because we are white, or American, or male that we have some sort of supremacy over others who are not those things. We have to give up our hatred of people who believe differently than we do about religion, sexual orientation, politics and all of the other things we use to divide each other and keep us separated from each other. Why do we have to give all of that up? Because every one of those things I just mentioned, and more, stand in direct opposition to the command of Jesus to love.
I mentioned earlier that maybe the young man did just as Jesus suggested and he did go and sell everything and that his turning if grief was not because he would not have eternal life but because he had sold everything. In selling everything he owned, he took the first step towards the kingdom of God. He found the strength within himself, or maybe he found it with the help and support of others we do not know, but he found the strength and did as Jesus asked, he gave up the thing that was keeping him back.
The rich young man had many possessions, and that is what kept him gaining eternal life. What is it that Jesus is asking you to give up? Sure, there will be grieving and sadness when we give whatever it is up, but the grief and sorrow will eventually turn to joy, joy in the Lord.