Sunday, August 17, 2014

What Do I Still Lack?

“All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”  Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”  When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.  Matthew 19:20-22

Father show us what we lack so that we will know why you take away our power and possessions to follow you.  Holy Spirit, please give to us what we need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the will of God, not of our own ego.  Amen. 

When invited to be on Cursillo team for the first time, our rector told the story of a picture of Jesus that his daughter kept on her mirror.  If memory serves me well, the quote from Jesus to her said: “I never said it would be easy.  I only promised it would be worth it.” (Is that right, Rector Frank?)  Today’s readings are about the hard way of the Good News that few follow. 

Earlier in Matthew 7:13-14, we read: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.  How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.”

There were large crowds at this stage of Jesus’ ministry which numbered into the thousands.  Crowds grew so large he sometimes had to escape by boat.  Yet, as people realized what Jesus was asking, they peeled away from the crowd like the rich young man who had many possessions.  They wanted Jesus to have an easy message.  Or at least a message easier to follow.  Their possessions bound them (and us) like the cloth strips bound Lazarus in his grave. 

Jesus changed the rules.  In Exodus, Deuteronomy and Leviticus we get a ream of rules to follow. Some practical. Some required just for survival in the desert.  Today, Jesus adds a new twist.  Drop everything except that cross. 

Today’s rule is not in the Hebrew Bible.  Certainly the Ten Commandments wanted us to have a healthy relationship with possessions.  We are warned not to covet our neighbor’s goods.  We are warned not to steal.   Certainly while Moses was up on Mount Sinai, people had a little issue with their gold jewelry being smelted into an idol.  But Jesus – in this encounter with the rich young man – goes much further than Moses.  Rather than asking for us to give up a tithe (one-tenth), Jesus asks us to give up 100 percent for him. 

Let’s not think Jesus is saying we all have to become John the Baptist or St. Francis of Assisi or live a hermit-like life of St. Anthony the Great. He is giving us three steps.  Go.  Sell.  Give.  Jesus is NOT saying not to store up treasure.  However, he distinguishes between treasures in silos or banks or mutual fund companies or real estate investment trusts and treasures in heaven. “But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”  (Matthew 6:20-21)

The NAB points out (in the notes to this passage) that “…[a]ctual renunciation of riches is not demanded of all; Matthew counts the rich Joseph of Arimathea as a disciple of Jesus.”  Jesus had his feet bathed in expensive perfume rather than sell the perfume to give alms to the poor.  Peter sent to find a gold coin to pay the temple tax.  Discipleship is not necessarily nor always an ascetic call to be homeless and indigent and wear sackcloth and eat locusts and honey in the desert. 

Some may choose that path.  However, we know from the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount that only the poor in spirit can enter the kingdom and, as here, such poverty may entail the sacrifice of some – if not all – of one’s possessions.

What do we still lack?  Faith?  Fellowship?  Willingness?  Lack of openness to asking?  The wrong motivation?  Humility? 

Another way to ask this is, “What do I still have that gets in the way or has become the obstacle between me and God’s friendship?

What is our golden calf that gets in the way of our following?  How can we untie ourselves from the behaviors, habits and possessions that binds us to our current way of life in order to follow Jesus? 

Many abstain from affluenza yet do not attend to their obligations to God and to each other. Any unbinding is not the last act.  It has to be done for the right reason (to follow God).  We have to give up the portion (whatever size that might be) which is the obstacle to God’s friendship. 

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