30 August 2017
Rich young ruler 2017
“What do you give to the man who has everything?” I remember that question from an ad campaign back in the ‘60s or ‘70s. The funny thing is, the ad had an answer—“Give him our product.” It made me wonder. If he had everything, wouldn’t he already have their product? The only right answer to the question, “What do you give to the man who has everything?” is “Nothing.”
The young man in today’s text was just such a guy…almost. He was rich; the text says he had “great possessions.” He was a decent person; when Christ says “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, honor your father and your mother, and love your neighbor as yourself,” he answers, “All these I have observed.” And we should take his answer at face value. He had one more thing going for him, that I’ve noticed only recently: he was young. He had time—and let me tell you, time is the most precious resource to have.
The only thing he didn’t have was eternal life. So he did what any decent young rich person might do: he went to Jesus and asked him how to get it. It makes sense. If you want to learn how to be a good student, ask one. If you want to get more money, ask a rich person how to do it. And if you want to have eternal life—go to Jesus Christ.
So he did. And Christ’s answer shattered him. “If you want to be perfect,” he says—and “perfect” doesn’t mean “sinless,” it means “complete”—“Go, sell all you have, and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
There are some folks for whom Christ is like an item on a checklist. Education? Check. Money? Check. Family? Check. Decent behavior? Check. Christ? Check.
But Christ will have none of that. He will be Lord, or he will be nothing. When, earlier in Matthew he said, “Seek first the kingdom and all these things will be added to you,” he didn’t mean that life is kingdom plus other things. He meant, “Forget about all those other things and leave them to God.” When he said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God’s mouth” he meant, “Man does not live by bread at all, but only by the word of God.”
We think that by having things, and decency, and education that we come closer to having life. But let’s be honest with ourselves. None of that satisfies. It always leaves the sense that something’s missing.
What’s missing is not something. What’s missing is someone—Jesus Christ. Remember what St. Paul told the Philippians: “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteous-ness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead… I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
At the end of every litany, we say “Let us commend ourselves, and one another, and our whole life, unto Christ our God.” The task before us is to empty ourselves of ourselves, that we may be full of Christ. Not even God can give something to the man who has everything. So we loosen our grip on our possessions, that Christ may feed us; we stop seeing ourselves as better than others, so that Christ may forgive us; we stop seeing our time as our own, so that Christ can use us. He feeds the hungry, he forgives sinners, he strengthens the weak, he raises the dead. So we must learn to see ourselves as hungry, as sinners, as weak, as dead. All the things we think we have are potentially useful; but they are only actually useful if we let them go, give them over to Christ. Keep holding on to them, and lose him. Let go of them, and receive him. “With men this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”