A man ran up and knelt before Jesus, and asked him, “‘[What] must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You know the commandments: You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal . . .’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
Few passages in the Gospels put us on edge as much as this one can — because no matter how much we try to distance ourselves from Jesus’ teaching, we can’t shake the feeling that he is speaking to us. And despite the fact that we consider ourselves to be fairly nice people who are also fairly generous, we have a feeling that the story would end the same way: with us going home disheartened. For we, too, have great possessions.
Much as we’d like to deny it, however, that is exactly what’s going on. Jesus is here among us and he is speaking to us now and his words are sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the center of our hearts, revealing what it is that really matters there.
And, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not him.
Not that we don’t think Jesus isn’t great. We do; but we have a habit of pushing him to the side when the real stuff of life comes up. Jesus doesn’t have anything to do with my finances, with how I live my life or spend my time. We hear “Go sell all that you have and give to the poor and come follow me,” and we immediately begin equivocating, pointing to the good things we’ve done, to the plans we have, to our intentions — anything to avoid the fact that Jesus so frankly reveals: We don’t love him most of all.
Which is an uncomfortable reality to face. Like the disciples, we watch in amazement as the rich young ruler leaves. But he’s a good person, we think. We’re all good people and we just want to follow you, Jesus. Isn’t that enough?
And Jesus says that it’s not.
“Then who can be saved?”
Who can be saved when the rich can’t buy their way into heaven and when even the most decent person among us can’t meet the bar Jesus sets — because try as we might, we can’t make ourselves love God as he deserves. We can’t make ourselves stop worrying about the cares of this world. We can’t make ourselves stop wanting and needing the things that Jesus literally tells this young man to leave behind.
So what do we do when we come to this point? What do we do when Jesus confronts us with the truth? Will we cling to the gold and jewels of this life? Will we go away sad because we simply can’t give up our possessions? Or will we open our hands and our hearts and reach for the pearl of great price, the silver coin, the treasure hidden in a field, knowing that he is more beautiful, more valuable, more precious than anything, than everything, we’ve left behind?
If that sounds impossible, it’s because it is. In our own strength, we will not, indeed, we cannot make ourselves love God more than money or family or whatever idol rests on the altar of our hearts. For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible — even the saving of a rich young ruler. Even the saving of us.
Jesus, looking on the young man kneeling before him, loved him. Jesus, looking on each and every one of us today loves us, too. He loves us so deeply that he gave up the riches that were his own and emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, so that we might be saved — so that his riches might become our riches and his life our life.
God himself chose to make the poverty of our sin his own so that we might share in his abundance, so that the poor in spirit and the poor in body might be blessed according to God’s generosity, not according to some worldly standard or worldly standing.
This is the gift Jesus offers us today, a gift of riches beyond all reckoning hidden within the humble body of our Lord.
We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because of Christ — and we will grow to desire him, to long for his presence more than we long for even the most beautiful things our world would give us as we follow him, as we cling to him, as we choose to set aside our burdens and our cares bit by bit and day by day and look to him instead.
Together with the psalmist, let us pray: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands — O prosper the work of our hands!” AMEN.