Jesus is on a journey – he is ultimately headed to Jerusalem and the cross. Last week he had traveled from Capernaum to Judea beyond the Jordan. Now as he sets out again, a man comes running up. He falls on his knees and says, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.” The address is over the top for a Jew. Jesus jokes (or maybe spars) with him, “Why do you call me ‘good’? No one is good but God.”
Next Jesus reminds him of the commandments – those dealing with our neighbors – those that deal with relationships here on earth. The Jewish belief was that if you just followed all the right laws, then you could please God and you would have eternal life. So his statement, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” was typical of this time and the present Jewish mindset.
But there’s a problem with this – how many of you have every received an inheritance? What did you have to do to earn that inheritance? Did you do something to earn the inheritance, or was it the result of a relationship you enjoyed?
Jesus essentially tells this man, you cannot earn God’s gift – you can only accept it. You’ve probably heard people say things like, “You just earned another star in your crown.” I’ve said it myself, but that just perpetuates the myth.
Eternal life is a gift. The gift of the kingdom of God is a gift of relationship. And Jesus is in the process of redefining relationship - relationship with God and with the people around you.
This man (Luke calls him a rich young ruler) is a good man – he is religious and has been diligent about keeping the commandments – he’s probably not much different from you and me. He’s spent his life living as best he knew how, following in his father’s footsteps, and most likely felt blessed by God because of his prosperity.
What he didn’t understand was that eternal life is a gift. There is a story told about a young boy in Sweden who wanted some grapes from the king’s garden for his sick mother. He asked the gardener if he could buy a bunch, but the gardener refused. Standing nearby was the King’s son, and right away he put two bunches of grapes in the boy’s hand. The boy offered to pay, but the prince said, “My father is not a merchant who sells, he is a king who gives.” Our God is not a merchant with eternal life to sell.
I can remember a number of years ago when Sam and I lived in Austin. We both had good jobs, two cars, two beautiful children and enough money for the things we needed. But something was missing. At the time we didn’t go to church except Christmas and Easter. We were good people – not rich, but we had what we needed, and yet, something was missing.
I would imagine that it wasn’t much different from this young man. He knew something was missing from his life and he thought that he could buy or earn whatever it was. And Jesus tells him what is needed. His face falls, because he isn’t ready to give up what he has. This young man walks away, shoulders slumped, head down, turning away from what he desperately wanted, because he wasn’t willing to pay the price. He wasn’t willing to lay down what he had in order to pick up what Christ wanted to give him.
Jesus turns to his disciples and says that it’s hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom – not impossible, but hard. It is only through the grace of God that any of us can enter the kingdom of God.
It’s hard for the rich to enter heaven because they have a tendency to rely on their wealth or their self for the things they need and want. It’s hard for the rich to enter heaven because they sometimes develop an unhealthy attachment to their wealth. We often hear a misquote from the Bible, “Money is the root of all evil.” But that’s not right. It’s not money that is the root of all evil, it is “the love of money that is the root of all evil.” That comes from 1 Tim. 6:10. Money itself is not the problem, it is our attachment and dependence on it that is a problem.
But this is a new concept for the disciples. The culture – the Jewish religion itself affirmed that affluence was the direct result of the blessing and favor of God. Affluence meant you were a shoe-in for heaven. But Jesus is giving them something new – getting into heaven may be impossible for us – but not for God - with God all things are possible.
There’s a story about a man who died and went to heaven and St. Peter met him at the gate and says, “We had to develop a new system to decide who gets to come into heaven. You need a thousand points to get in now. What have you done with your life?”
The man says, “Well, I was a minister and preached to hundreds of people and brought them to God. I visited prisoners and patients in hospitals. I started a food kitchen to feel the hungry and a clothing center to help people get clothes.”
St. Peter said, “Well, all that adds up to about 10 points.” The man, in shock, said, “Ten point? At that rate I’ll need the grace of God to get in.” St. Peter said, “That’s worth 990 points. Come on in.”
Peter speaks for the whole group – “We have left everything to follow you…” Jesus tells the disciples; "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold. . . houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions.”
I don’t know about you, but for me that doesn’t sound happy – fields with persecutions? I think it’s safe to say that when we follow Jesus, it isn’t always fun and games. Sometimes there will be struggles and hardships. Sometimes we are going to suffer, regardless of who we are and what we are and what we have done.
God is asking something of us. He’s asking for a commitment. For some people that might take the form of a commitment of money. For others, it might be a commitment of time. And even others might be asked for a commitment of talent.
I guess it’s sort of like earnest money in a contract – you are putting your money where you mouth is. You know those bumper stickers out there that say “Honk if you love Jesus.” Sam and I ran across one a couple of years ago that said, “If you love Jesus, tithe. Anyone can honk.”
Jesus is looking for relationship and one of the symbols of relationship is by supporting your local parish. Consider it a commitment. This is stewardship season in the Episcopal Church. Your vestry is looking ahead to next year and planning. One of the things they will be looking for is financial support. The biblical commitment is the tithe – ten percent. Even if you don’t have money, there are other things you can do. God is calling you into relationship, so search your heart and consider where God is calling you to commit you time or talent or treasure for the coming year.