Br. John Forbis, OHC
Proper 22- Sunday, October 14, 2018
To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.
|Br. John Forbis, OHC|
So they give me the foundational Gospel passage for monastic life. Many of the first monks, like Anthony, did exactly what Jesus told the rich man to do. They gave away all they had, sold it, gave the money to the poor and went to live a solitary or community life in the desert following Jesus in word and action. So it has been done. Only, they give this passage to me of all people, a monk, whose perhaps worst struggle with this life is trying to face a passage like this.
But who’s they? Each of us brothers are put on a rota for preaching. And this morning’s Gospel passage happens to be how the chips have fallen. It’s only Jesus telling this rich young man, telling me and you to perform his injunction. He is the one facing us at this moment. And that is important to remember. It’s him telling us how far we’ve come and how much further to go.
The man coming to Jesus could be looking for some teaching, some words of inspiration, but I would be surprised if there wasn’t the least bit desire for justification or the assurance that all is OK. He begins with some flattery. “Good teacher … “. But Jesus deflects that and gives credit where credit is due. Then, comes the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Is there a hint behind this question of “Are you and I square, Jesus? Am I in good with God?”
Jesus responds with perhaps exactly what the guy is looking for. Just follow the commandments. Whew! That’s the easy part! But this guy blew it for us. He could have walked away at that moment, and we all could have been off the hook. But he sticks around and is insistent, it seems, to hear it out of Jesus’ mouth. “All is good. Keep it up.”
In the society of Jesus’ time, the prevailing thought was that people had wealth and prosperity simply because they were “good”. They followed the laws and the commandments. They did everything that was expected of them, and thus, God was on their side.
Not much has changed today really. There actually is a them, a them, an us and a them. Privilege comes at a cost. It’s implied in the word itself. If I’m privileged, others aren’t. We have what others don’t.
Privilege comes at a cost to us as well. In my preparations for this sermon, I came across the existence of a PBS documentary entitled Affluenza. The piece defines the neologism as “a painful contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste, resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. The term has also been used to refer to an inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions because of financial privilege.” A pretty bleak future for us, I must say.
But what if the prosperity and wealth isn’t enough for this man? What if on some level he is desperately hoping that his “possessions” are not all there is?
Jesus probably saw this man’s fear and anxiety about eternal life in the age to come. Maybe Jesus heard what was behind the man’s question, “Is this all there is?” Jesus, looking at him, loved him. He LOVED him! There is more. There is an opportunity for non-attachment to and abandonment of possessions, for a freedom beyond separation, isolation, loneliness and fear. There is the freedom to loosen his grip of control and open his hand to share his possessions, certainly, but also to find and share his true self, his soul, to follow Jesus. There is the liberation to look beyond himself and respond to those at whose expense he flourishes. There is the risk of being loved.
But the man walks away, the price is too high. I’ve walked away again and again. It’s too much of a shock to our systems, his and mine. It’s so new, so strange, so foreign, and the repetitive voice in my head continuously hammers home that this life is inaccessible. There’s no other way and don’t even think you can do it. Now be a good boy, go out and buy a book that you will never read that alleges to tell you how to acquire eternal life.
Jesus knows what he is asking of us. It costs as well. Nothing less than what we hold on to for our own safety and security. He loves us enough to allow us to walk away.
But this begs the disciples’ question, who can be saved? I wonder how many of them ask out of protest or defeat.
We don’t know what happens to the man, but perhaps that is because his story is not over. Filling the distance between Jesus’ love and this man’s fear is God. Possibility is in control now, and yes, eternal life is accessible and given. Not earned. Our story is not over either. For eternal life is given to all. And we have our work cut out for us.
For now we have community, “houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” We can no longer hide behind our possessions.
Is the price too high? I’m afraid I can’t answer that question for you. I often can’t answer it for myself.
But I’ll say it again. Jesus, looking at him, LOVED him. Now what was the question again?