An eternal question: Luke 18: 18-30

Must we give up everything for Jesus? The text seems pretty clear – and it comes to us in all three synoptic gospels – but have WE given up everything to follow Christ?

I know the answer I must give is no. I have some pretty cool stuff- I count my two degrees as major personal accomplishments – my marriage, my relationship with my kids, all these things I claim as my own and stubbornly refuse to leave behind for Jesus’s sake. I brought my family with me, for crying out loud – in what appears to be ignorance of Jesus praise for all who will be rewarded for leaving “house, or wife, or brothers, or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God…”

So what kind of Christian does that make me…?

Rather than become bogged down in the literal argument – for this is a text that can cause fits among those who are intent on doing “exactly what Jesus says” – I suggest that we remember two things:

First, Jesus loves hyperbole…and simile…and metaphor…and figures of speech that shock us into a new way of understanding – and these are necessary because the kingdom that Jesus represents is so much different that we’re used to.

Second (and most importantly), Jesus tells us that it is impossible for us to ‘inherit the kngdom’ on our own initiative. For mortals it is impossible; (you cannot save yourself is a maxim of both lifeguards and experts in Christian doctrine) but not for God. God is intimately involved with the process of our redemption, and Jesus seems to be saying that our frantic desire to “do the right thing” is actually keeping us from doing the right thing. God is steadily, constantly and dilligently at work on our behalf.

That doesn’t mean that we must stop doing things. Obedience to the law is a worthy activity. Earning merit badges for good deeds, or gold stars for perfect attendance are not habits we should be ashamed of. We do need to remeber that none of this will get us to heaven. Yet even with this remnder, the question that haunts even the best and the brightest among us is “have I done enough?”

We are creatures of activity; designed and evolved to do certain things – and we grew to enjoy the status that came with success. There is also within us an knowledge that sometimes all our efforts fail – that the universe is more willful that we. Our religious impulses come from this suspicion, and so too the thought that perhaps this mighty will (let’s call it God) may be able to do things for us and to us that are both bad and good. So there is a struggle between our self-preserving activity and the greater good that God might offer us. Some say the answer is to “let go and let God” but that assumes we are able to squash our desire to achieve. So we believe God is engaged in our redemption, and that God has also planted in us this urge to accomplish – an ambition to serve and succeed – it is an interesting predicament; one that leads to the ruler’s question; “what must I DO to inherit eternal life?”

This is a story of our struggle. The struggle to be better, to do more, to show the world that we (the church) are worth the trouble. The kingdom of God – Eternal life – it is the same prize; life beyond suffering or worry; a kingdom of peace and (one imagines) something that looks like prosperity. Humanity has sought something like this for as long as we have been able to keep records, draw pictures or tell stories. What must we do, to move beyond this time of struggle to our reward? What can we do to overcome our present danger, or the distant threat? We ask these kinds of questions every day of our lives, believe it or not, and the answers never satisfy us. So Jesus response is worth noting.

All the things you would expect him to praise – the religious rules and observances – are (even then) not enough. All the activiy of this person – activity that had raised him to a place of prominence and power – neither are these enough. He is invited to abandon everything he has done and all that he knows and follow (and trust) God’s messenger and God’s providence – and he can’t do it because he thinks it will be the end of his activity. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I began by asking “Must we give up everything for Jesus?” Perhaps the better question is “should we give up everything…?” There are certain things that are not compatible with a life of faith, but we still have work to do as followers of Christ.

A life of trust in God – a life of faith is also a life of action, but that action has a different motive. It is sadly true that occasionally our faith puts us at odds with the people we love. More often, faith changes strained relationships, and brings new purpose to our lives. Faith doesn’t require our poverty, but teaches us to be more thoughtful and generous stewards of our resources. Instead of a need to feed and protect ourselves, we act to feed and protect the weak and hungry among us. Instead of seeking positions of privilege for ourselves, our actions seek to place God in the forefront; our lives tell the story of God’s grace and protection; God’s love and salvation. We need not turn sadly from Jesus invitation to follow him. Let us take up his invitation, and live for the glory of God.


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