Jesus is a bit demanding, isn’t he? Just last week he was announcing his desire, nay demand even, to have ALL of us. ALL of the time. Not just some of us some of the time but ALL of us ALL of the time. And now, look at him go. Having all of us all of the time isn’t just quite enough. Jesus wants us to unload all of our possessions. More accurately so sell all of our possessions and give the money to the poor. Sheez. What a guy…[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/352223-all-of-us-all-the-time.mp3]
It is probably no real secret to say that in our current culture we have something of a love affair with money and possessions. I can picture Captain Obvious swooping in when I make that statement. I mean think about it, just last Sunday we were watching a bunch of commercials and a football game broke out. Right? A bunch of commercials reminding us that there are things we haven’t spent our money on just waiting for us to whip out the credit card.
And what better example of this idea than the ‘holiday’ we are celebrating today. Very few people actually remember what is behind Valentine’s Day or even recognize it is a day honoring St Valentine. St Valentine was a martyr of the church, executed in a horrific, three-part fashion and we’re honoring a saint with chocolates and cards? Sorry to be the buzzkill on the holiday and I’ve got nothing against a little romance but it does underscore how our understanding of something can be changed over time by a good marketing campaign.
With that in mind, I’m not entirely convinced this bit of scripture is any more literal than many other parts of the Bible. Speaking of marketing campaigns, as a preacher the easy play is to make it literal and ask you to sell all your stuff and give the money to the church. And if I’m really slick about it I’ll give you a pass on selling ALL of your stuff and just ask for 10% so you’ll feel good about not having to sell all your stuff.
Nothing about Jesus is that easy. I don’t think Jesus isn’t literally telling us to go down to the local pawn shop and sell all our stuff. He might be but I actually think the point Jesus is making and what Jesus wants is actually harder than selling all of our possessions and giving the money to the poor. Much harder.
It does literally say that but that would mean there is something we can DO to gain eternal life. That would be another step toward heresy, that is teaching something about God that is wrong and misleads people. There is nothing we can ever DO that will get us into heaven. We are saved by grace through our faith.
In truth, this is just one more step toward Jesus having all of us, all of the time. That’s the real problem in our relationship with money, possessions and Jesus. The first two get in the way of the other. There is nothing wrong with having money and possessions. I know that is different than what many claim but there just isn’t. So long as you came to it honestly, having money is fine. Having stuff is fine.
The problem comes in when, like the rich man in today’s story, our money and possessions get in the way of our faith. This young man’s problem wasn’t that he was a wealthy person; it is that he thought all he had to do was obey all the rules and everything was copacetic. And that is where Jesus used this man’s money and possessions to attempt to bring him around to what God’s grace means.
It’s what it took to get his attention. He, the rich man, was convinced that he had it covered as far as loving God was concerned. Just follow the rules and all will be well. God will love me and no fuss and no muss. On my merry way I go. The trouble is that following rules isn’t how God works. If following rules were all it took we’d all be in trouble. I mean really, think about our confession. When was the last time you lifted up a prayer of confession for no reason whatsoever? Yeah, me neither.
Fortunately for us, God works on a grace basis. We are saved by grace through our faith. What this story is coming down to is the man is trying to buy eternal life with all his attention to the rules. The rich man is apparently curious, if not concerned, about eternal life. I mean, he asks Jesus straight out, ““Good Teacher, what must I DO to inherit eternal life?” Sounds like he’s looking for his checklist to fill out, right?
What Jesus is trying to get the rich man to understand is that eternal life is a gift, not something on the sale rack at Younkers that you can pick up after work. The trouble the rich man has is that his life is focused on the sale rack at Younkers and he wants to stop by after work and pick up a hangar with eternal life hanging on it.
It is his focus on his stuff that gets in the way of his faith. He’s done all the right things but is too concerned with his possessions to be able to grasp the love of God, the GRACE of God in Jesus Christ. This is the part that makes it easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven. Jesus doesn’t care about his things so much as he cares about the rich man’s possessions getting in the way of his faith.
That is the purpose of our offerings that we give. Offerings help us keep our focus on God rather than our possessions. The purpose of our offerings is not to make God happy and buy our way into eternal life and it isn’t to pay the bills here. The purpose of our offerings is to help us remember that God is the most important thing in our lives. Our money and our stuff is far down the list.
In the coming week give some thought to three relationships. Your relationship with God, your relationship to other people and your relationship with money and possessions. Give some prayerful consideration and if something needs to shift to get your number one focus on God, ask God to help you get there.