Blogging Towards Sunday, October 11th
Text familiar to many yet perhaps unknown to most of us. We think it's about a young rich ruler, yet the text never says he's a "ruler." We tend to think it's a blanket a marxist-inspired Jesus message against the rich, yet Jesus seems to be saying that no one can be saved: poor, rich; male, female; young, old; Jew, Gentile. Only God saves. Salvation - eternal life - is a gift, the eternal standard-bearing statement of the reformation - it can't be earned, won, merited or inherited, it can only be received.
As I read it I'm struck by the love of Jesus. This is the only time in the gospels that it says that Jesus loved someone. He loves the man who is authentically looking for faith, seeking a just-life, who in the ends rejects Jesus' invitation to follow him as master. You can say that this text teaches the Protestant rallying cry that we are saved by faith alone through grace. That we are saved not by good works, but for good works. The question for us maybe though today is what does it mean to receive eternal life, to be saved? It is merely a way to escape the hardships and difficulty of life here and now? Is it a way to deal with today by dreaming of a better tomorrow? Jesus seems to talk about authentic faith as making a difference here and now: giving to the poor today - changing the world by faith and through hope here and now: responding to the needs of the world through the passions that God has put inside our hearts.
In the text the young man comes as an authentic seeker of faith. He's kept the commandments, giving to charities, worked hard to be righteous, just, kind and compassionate: to love as God commanded to love. Yet Jesus challenges him to go farther. To follow after Jesus as a disciple means you have to give something up. Possibly material wealth and a home, like Abraham and Sarah. Possibly the pain of the past, like Moses. Possibly the comfortableness of work and professional identity, like Peter, Andrew, James and John. Faith is a paradox. Jesus says that spirituality is a journey. To receive, you must give. To love, you must first be loved. To show compassion, you must first be shown compassion.
We talk these days about salvation, eternal life as an escape from this world into a better one. Talking in that way to reassure those that suffer and/or are deprived here. Talking in that way to reassure ourselves when we want to withdraw or don't want to risk investment in changing the way our world is here and now. Maybe our problem is that we tend to think of salvation as all about me/us, as opposed to thinking about it in terms of all of us
Jesus challenges me still today through the dialectic present in this passage. To follow him means to give up what we have. I don't know if we're called to abject poverty. In the passage the disciples received exactly what they give up (compare the two lists in v. 29-30). But we are called to give up what is possibly too familiar, that which keeps us from authentic faith, from seeking after God's heart, practicing the presence of God in our life in a sincere daily way, loving our neighbor as God has first loved us. Maybe we can't "taste" or fathom eternal life until we leave the life we've known until now behind?