Rev. Garfield Wu
October 14th, 2018 (8:15 a.m. service)
Last Thursday, I joined a training named “Fresh start”, which is for newly ordained priest or those who newly moved into new parishes. There was a question. What was the movie you watched lately?
You know, right after Thanksgiving’s services, I was so tired and just wanted to take a nap. When Aileen came to me and said, “please go with me to see a movie, it’s Thanksgiving!” I felt it was impossible I could hold up for a 2 hours movie, but I said to her, ok, let’s go. I ended up falling sleep through half that movie, but I enjoyed the time with her and I remembered the movie’s name. It’s “Mission impossible-Fall Out”.
Go back to today’s gospel,
When Jesus told the man “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
I think Jesus give this young man a mission impossible. Don’t you think that? Let’s go through a little bit today’s gospel story…
A young man comes to Jesus to ask this question. “Good Teacher,” he says. Immediately Jesus is on guard. The young man is beginning with idle flattery. “Good Teacher,” he asks “what must I do to get to heaven?” Notice the focus of the young man’s question. He’s not interested in pleasing God or growing in spirituality or pursuing truth. He figures he’s got it made in this world now how can he ensure a firm hold on the next life?
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good!” This should have been a signal to the man about the inadequacy of his question. If even the Master made no claim to goodness, than how could this man make such a claim?
“But as for your question,” Jesus continued, “you know the commandments: don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, respect your father and mother.”
“Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve never once broken a single one of those laws.”
Now, our first reflection might be that this young man’s halo was a bit too snug. He hadn’t broken a single law? He had never lied? Never cheated? Never stolen so much as a nickel when he was a kid? It sounds like he is in love with his own virtue.
He is like many people in our culture today. They are affluent. They are bright, successful. They have all the things this world can afford. And life has come easily for them. They’ve never suffered, never agonized, never really questioned life’s many injustices. They live in the lives untested. They inhabit a world of simple answers and over-simplified theology. “What must I do?” they ask. “I’ve laid up funds for my retirement. I’ve got stock options to guarantee my current needs. Now what must I do to add heaven to my portfolio? Just tell me and I will take care of it.”
Jesus felt genuine love for this man. “You lack only one thing,” Jesus told him. Ah, this is what this man had come expecting. He only needed one thing. Get out the check book. Whatever the Master asked of him, he knew he could afford, if not in money, at least in time. Support the building program? Work with the youth group? Teach a Sunday school class? Knock on doors? Those were not ministries he was excited about, but he could do them if they would guarantee him a place in the Kingdom of God. “You lack only one thing,” Jesus said. “Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor–and you shall have treasure in heaven–and come, follow me.”
And this time the man was really challenged and it was exactly how Mark tells it. “Then the man’s face fell,” Mark writes, “and he went sadly away, for he was very rich.” Mission impossible to this man.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS WAS THE ONLY TIME JESUS TOLD SOMEONE TO GIVE AWAY ALL THEIR POSSESSIONS.
The man was young, rich, powerful, and respected. He had the world by the tail. Except for one thing. Many times we miss the beauty of this story because we focus on this young man’s wealth. We focus on what he had that he needed to get rid of. What we need to ask is what it was that he didn’t have that he needed. What was the one thing he lacked? THAT ONE THING WAS THE ASSURANCE OF GOD’S PRESENCE IN HIS LIFE.
The rich man wanted to “do”; he didn’t want to receive. Bible commentator Lawrence Richards notes that just a few verses before this passage, Jesus blesses the little children. Children know they are dependent; they cannot do many things for themselves. So they are able to receive gracefully. We adults have more trouble receiving help, or gifts, or blessings. We want a quid pro quo relationship. “You do something for me and I’ll do something for you.” But it’s impossible for us to do anything worthwhile for God. His gift of grace and salvation is too big for us to ever earn.
Jesus asked what he surely knew was an impossible task for this man to accomplish in order to show him the inadequacy of his question. He needed to see that his good works could not earn him a place in the Kingdom. What he needed was simply to receive the grace that God was ready to pour out upon him.
Unfortunately, let’s see what he asks: “What must I do to get to heaven?” is a flawed question. The flaw is this: THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO THAT WILL GUARANTEE OUR ENTRANCE TO HEAVEN.
Entry into heaven is determined not by what we DO, but what Christ has done for us. All we can do is receive what has already been granted.
Heaven is a matter of being, not of doing. If Christ has come into your life and is renewing your life daily, you are already living in the kingdom of God. There is nothing you need do. It’s already done.
Remember what Jesus tells his disciple “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
In his holy name, Amen.