My last post was in September. And then all was quiet as my final semester at Asbury Theological Seminary began with the usual excitement and flurry. There is a measure of bittersweet that goes along with the word "final", embodied in the close of an experience, an exit from one place and hopefully towards another. The former is quite real. Seminary is over. The latter is less evident. *smile*. For I have absolutely no idea where I am going next in this adventure, this Calling. Calling is a curious term, and is often utilized by seminarians, as we are all trying to be obedient to, discerning of, or, gasp, even managing our Callings. As some of my readers know, I spend an exorbitant amount of time reading the Greek New Testament, and having worked my way through John and into Matthew currently, I am increasingly made aware, by the Text, that though we are the instruments through which God has chosen to work through, He is the One who Calls. You may say, "Well, duh!" But you know, I think sometimes we get that backwards, implying in our language of "my Call" or "my ministry" that somehow it belongs to us, rather than a Divine source. I don't think we like to admit that, do we? Perhaps that might reveal more about us than we would prefer to see--like looking in a mirror, that sometimes can be a little scary for some of us, realizing that "I am not in charge."
If God is the One who Calls us, are we listening? And if we are listening, are we preparing to go where He tells us to? Time and time again, Jesus asks us to "listen" to him. But he doesn't stop there, Jesus speaks into our lives through the parables, those narratives that draw us into their sticky webs, wherein we see ourselves, in all the good and bad (more often unfortunately it is the bad). He speaks so that we can see ourselves as we are now, and hopefully realize that He sees us quite beyond the "here" and "now". Jesus saw such an opportunity with one particular person--a young man. We likely know the story, "The Rich Young Man", but the Text doesn't start out that way in Matthew 19:16. Rather the Text simply says that an indefinite "someone" came to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good might I do that I might have eternal life?"
Couldn't that be anyone? You, me, your best friend, your enemy? I had a professor post a question yesterday on FB--"What is the big question in life?" Perhaps this is one of them. In our culture, we like doing "good". But what does "good" really mean? How do we determine what is "good" and what is not?
Jesus answers the indefinite person, "Why do you ask me about what is good?"
He could have stopped there, letting the indefinite person (you or I, or your cousin Harry) stew. But he doesn't.
He adds, "There is one who is Good".
The adjective "good" is used in a substantive way, ὁ ἀγαθός, is "the one who is good" or "the good one". Many of the English translations add "only one who is good", which I think is quite effective as the εις, meaning "one", in combination with the 3ps "to be" verb, εστιν, seems to imply that translation.
Jesus continues..."IF (there's that annoying conditional language again) you desire to enter into life, keep the commandments!"
The indefinite person replies, "Which ones?"
How real does this sound to us? "I mean how good do really have to be to get in--can I do just a little bit good and still get my ticket to heaven? I mean "I haven't killed anybody...", what's the parameters here, Jesus?
Jesus replies (I wonder if he was smiling at this point) "not to kill, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to lie, honoring ones parents, and loving your brother as yourself".
Those are the second half of the Ten commandments, except the last one. That one is from Leviticus 19.18. The Ten commandments are more than just a list of rules, right? They aren't just an ethical checklist, rather they are a means of learning to LOVE one another. What commandments are missing that Jesus doesn't mention?
In vs. 20, suddenly, the speaker's identity is revealed (though not clearly yet)--a young man.
The young man says, "I have kept all these. What am I lacking?"
Consider my question above. What commandments from the Ten Commandments are missing? Now this is just an observation on my part, but I find it quite ironic that the young man knows himself that he is lacking in something. Obviously, he has come to Jesus looking for help with his life. Something is not right, and he knows it. So he goes to ask the "Teacher"; but does he realize Who he is talking to? It would not be strange for a Jew to go to the synagogue or temple to speak to a "teacher". But then Jesus takes it to a whole new level. He does what only Jesus can do--He hits the nail on the proverbial head.
Jesus answers, "If you desire to be complete (perfect), go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me!"
What is interesting is the structure of this dialogue--earlier he asked the indefinite person, "If you desire to enter into life..." but now he is asking, "If you desire to be complete (perfect)..." This seems to imply that you can have a "good" life by just doing what you is required, but that is obviously not the ultimate goal. Following God is the ultimate goal, but that goal comes with sacrifices.
The end of the conversation is disconcerting and unsettling. And rightly so. The Text tells us that the young man had alot of land. But before that revelation, the Text tells us that the young man "heard this word" and became sad. Perhaps because he had a great deal of property, which in today's terminology equates to a vast market share in perhaps Microsoft. :) He had a great deal of security and safety in the things he had, yet he had come to the Teacher because that evidently had not been enough. Yet, it ends there.
The next scene in the story is Jesus informing the disciples of the burden of wealth, with particular regard for the difficulty of a wealthy person entering the Kingdom of God. Suddenly, the identity of the young man is associated with being rich, or wealthy, and suddenly the Kingdom of God is associated with "Following" Jesus. The young man could not--it was exceedingly difficult for him to let go of his stuff. The Text doesn't tell us what the young man did, but obviously the story ends with a harsh note of sadness. The disciples perhaps sensed this, asking in v. 25, in their amazement, "Then how can anyone be saved?" It was a desperate situation, in the disciples eyes, for indeed many people had land. Land was like social security. Everyone had stuff; some more than others, but stuff was important to surviving. This was a difficult lesson, not just for the young man, but for all of us. How can we be saved then? We like our stuff! We need our stuff!
Jesus replies, "With man that is not possible, but with God everything is possible."
Again, Jesus re-orients the disciples, and the readers, to the Source of All Things. He is the One who Calls, who Leads, who Provides. And only He is Good. Therefore, to be "good" is not enough in and of itself; Good, according to the Text, is only God. Relationship with God is where we will find our Identity, and be called Righteous in Christ Jesus.
So, are we listening to what God has called us to do? And if we are listening, are we prepared to Go, when he says Go? The young man could not for a variety of reasons that the Text doesn't share with us, but the illustration of his inability to follow Jesus is a powerful one. The last line, "with God everything is possible", is our greatest hope--God isn't done with us yet. Thanks be to God.
Peace. And Merry Christmas. :)