Tied For Last Place (part 3)
Oh, where’d I leave off again? That’s right… I was hoping for some middle ground to stand on; a broad space that covers the spread between two opposing, but equally as arrogant reactions to the issue of riches and wealth. (You can catch up with me by reading part 1 and part 2 at this point, if you haven’t already.)
I gave you the passage below. Three things that encourage me, all in bold italics. Read it again…
17 And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
|"Christ and the Rich Young Ruler"|
Heinrich Hofman - 1889
The Riverside Church, New York
18 And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'"
20 And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth."
21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."
26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?"
27 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God."
28 Peter began to say to him, "See, we have left everything and followed you."
29 Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Mark 10:17-31 ESV)
You caught the three things? Well, you read them at least? They encourage me – even challenge me – because they don’t suggest a middle ground at all! Rather, they suggest a totally different ground all together!
One by one, watch…
First, this isn’t a passage primarily about my money or your money at all! See that first question, the one in bold about eternal life? That’s a bookend. It sets the context for us. The supreme conflict at hand isn’t between being rich and relieving poverty. In fact few, if any, of the times Jesus brings up wealth and riches is this the conflict. The supreme conflict at hand is between not knowing God and knowing God…forever! As the passage proceeds, money comes up, and for a key reason. We’ll note that next. But if you skip down a bit, there you’ll find the other bookend, at the end of verse 30: “…in the age to come eternal life.”
I’m encouraged and challenged by this because right from the get-go the questions I ought to be asking as I read aren’t questions of wealth or poverty or selling everything off. They should be questions about eternal life. My starting point isn’t something as earthly and base as money or a feeling of guilt for having some. My starting point is far higher; Real Life lived in the presence of the one true God forever! What about wealth and riches? Keep reading…
Next, Jesus loved the rich guy. Have you ever noticed that before? Matthew and Luke don’t mention it in their accounts. It’s the short answer to the guys question on eternal life. Here kneels a guy before Jesus who is drowning in the abundance of his possessions, clinging to his good works to keep him afloat, and Jesus looked at him, perhaps right through him even, and loved him…by calling out his idol. Same love he has for you and me. A most uncomfortable manner of love to be sure, but love none-the-less when the stakes are eternal life.
“You lack one thing…” Great hook Jesus! The guy’s listening ears leaned in. I wonder if his listening ears made it past the “sell all you have and give to the poor” part before his mind began to spin through the lengthy list of his great possessions; every one an altar to a well known god? I wonder if mine would if it was my idol on trial?
Fact is though, if all we hear is a command to liquidate, we walk away with a narrow vision of Jesus’ love. The breadth of Jesus’ love for this guy; for me and for you, stretches in directions and into dimensions far beyond a mere requirement to kill our lying idols, be they possessions, career, relationships, community status, or whatev. His love includes both the promise of treasure in heaven; an inheritance outweighing that of our earthly idols, and a call to follow Him; an adventure outpacing that of our earthly idols. Is anyone else showing you this manner of love? Not a chance. This love is too risky; too…impossible, for you and I that is. Keep reading…
Finally, God’s love is always – and only – possible. For this poor rich dude in the story, selling everything and giving it to the poor was the best and furthest extreme Jesus could imagine with respect to him earning eternal life. This guy could no more step to Jesus’ challenge by killing off his idols than he could buy his way into heaven. And neither can we. It’s impossible. No brainer illustration: Try getting a camel through the eye of a needle. Go on, give it a try. No camel handy? Try your cup of fair trade coffee or your charitable giving receipts or your Christmas shopping list or whatever else is tucked away in the pride pocket and secretly worth more to you than God’s love. (Believe me, I too have plenty of things that won’t fit through that needle eye.)
Jesus’ answer to the question of eternal life, whether for this rich young slappy in the story or for you and I, is less about a show of strength and striving and more about a humble reception of God’s love. You and I, we’ll never kill all our idols and therein find eternal life. Quitting a job that’s stealing your soul, severing a relationship that’s defiling your character, selling everything and giving to the poor; we may assume these and any number of other noble deeds move us into a tie for last place where the trophy of eternal life is sure to be found. But when we arrive there we’ll notice last place is already occupied by One, Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son.
See, God’s love for us placed Jesus in last place. No tie. Just Jesus…on the cross…dying our death. Just Jesus doing the eternal deed, which all our temporal deeds combined, sincere as they may be, could never match. Just Jesus buying for you and me a forever inheritance in heaven that was already his for the taking. Just Jesus destroying the needle’s eye and any hope for a middle ground, making a totally new way into His eternal Kingdom; making possible the impossible.
“But many who are first will be last, and the last first." ~ Mark 10:31