Sometimes, we want the payoff without the cost, without any effort.
We want to look svelte and sleek, but we want to eat whatever we want while we’re sitting on our couch watching television.
We want to know our financial futures are locked up tight, but we are used to spending money freely on today’s creature comforts.
We want to have great friends, but we fail to take the time in those relationships to listen, to care, and to grow.
We want the ultimate life but we often fail to consider the cost.
This man in Luke 18 today is just like us. In some gospels, he’s called “The Rich Young Ruler.” We understand that he is in the prime of life -that he has it all – with wealth, property, authority, and power. But he’s obviously been thinking about what it means to live forever, to have a relationship with God that would extend beyond this life.
So, he comes to Jesus and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now, let’s be clear, he doesn’t think he’s talking to God or God’s one and only son; he is asking someone he thinks is wiser than the rest, who has something to offer him in knowledge.
Jesus’ response is a rebuff in its own right: “You’re calling me good but you don’t really know what you’re saying.” It’s ironic, and challenging at the same time. ‘You’re using a term that should be reserved for God, and I am God, but you don’t know or respect that!’
So, Jesus challenges the man with the Ten Commandments: don’t sleep with someone you’re not married to, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother.
That’s a pretty heavy list, right? How many of us can say we’ve gone five for five on that list? How many of us have some work to do on the list before tomorrow?
But this guy says back, “I’ve obeyed all of those my whole life.”
Think about that a little bit. The ruler who wants Jesus’ advice is basically saying, “Yeah, I asked your opinion, but I’ve got this covered.” He came and approached Jesus as the expert, but he assumes that the answer is already justified – that Jesus is going to give him an “attaboy.”
[Honestly, I do that all of the time with doctors. “Okay, so I have congestion, cough, nasal discharge, etc. It’s got to be a sinus infection. Can you just write the Z-pack prescription? I don’t even need to come into the office!”]
The thing is, we can come to church over and over again, picking and choosing which of the commandments of God we’ll follow, and expect that God will give us an “attaboy” or “attagirl.” We can have been so selective about what to follow that we fail to see the things about our lives that we should give up or let go of because that’s what God wants from us!
But the thing is, that this ruler came to Jesus, expecting one thing, and receives another. Jesus puts his finger right on the pulse about what the man really cares about, what consumes him, what keeps him from living a freely-loving life: his stuff. His prestige. His power.
So Jesus cuts through it and says, “You’re still missing one thing. Sell everything, donate the proceeds to the poor, and then come follow me.”
It says that the man went away sad because he was very rich.
This concerns the disciples, because they are sure that the rich have a leg up on eternal life because, of course, the rich have a leg-up on everything, right? Society, since the beginning, has valued wealth above and beyond other characteristics. They ask, incredulously, “Who then can be saved?”
As in, “oh, man, if the rich can’t be saved with all they’ve got, then no one else can either…” This is despair!
And Jesus says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
Salvation, following repentance, is not from humanity but from God. We can’t be saved on our own; we can’t be saved by what we have or what we get. We can only be saved by the the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
That grace is freely given, but it cost Jesus something, didn’t it? He had to die on the cross. He gave up his life.
And Lent calls us to consider the cost of discipleship. We’re called to give up the things we don’t need – and the things that are destructive to us like greed, lust, addiction, power — and embrace God’s call for us to love.
We’re called to leave our comfort zones and figure out what we really believe. I’ve been thinking about that a good bit this week, since I watched the film Do You Believe? It’s the follow-up, but not a direct sequel to, God’s Not Dead. Now, I wasn’t a huge fan of the first one, even though it has its merits – and it asked people to consider what they were thinking about theology versus what the “world” told them was true.
In Do You Believe? a series of people, twelve in fact, are asked how they’re living out what they believe – whether it’s Christian or not. Are they making a difference in the lives of the people around them? Are they speaking the truth in love? Are they committed to answering to the fact that yes, they follow Jesus? Not all of them answer the same way – not all of them get it.
But the movie holds the toughest criticism for those people who say they love Jesus and yet don’t show it. Who don’t do anything about it.
Who know they shouldn’t do things or should do things but stand back and assume someone else will. They’re simple things but nonetheless, important ones.
The pastor will do the preaching for us….
Someone else will visit or call on the person we haven’t seen in awhile…
The more experienced person will share their faith with my co-worker…
The Sunday School teacher will explain everything to my kids so I don’t have to…
Like going to the doctor, we can’t get better if we don’t follow the doc’s instructions. If we don’t take our medicine, or get the rest we need.
Jesus called us to get up and go. To follow. He didn’t say it would make us miserable but he did say it would require sacrifice and there would be trouble.
Me personally, I’m down for a little trouble. But too much trouble and I… might be in trouble! But this isn’t on us; this is on God. If we’re willing to do what we should, put aside all the things we know we shouldn’t really be doing or thinking about anyway, and trust that following God ends up pretty well.
Jesus did the heavy lifting, and just asked that we’d believe. That we’d recognize God’s love and want to let God lead us the way we should go.
God’s grace is freely offered – but to receive what we’ve been given, we need to live the life God wants for us. The best for us. Right now.