Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen
There are two readings from the Gospels that make me very uncomfortable, and always leave me trying somehow to work my way around them.
The first, and probably the most difficult one, is the judgment of the nations found in Matthew 25.
That’s where Jesus says that the Son of Man will come in glory, and judge the nations, dividing the people into two groups. One group will inherit the Kingdom prepared for them from the beginning. The others sent to the eternal fire prepared for the devils and his angels.
The difference between the two groups is how they treated the least of these.
for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. '
When did we do this—or not do this??
And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. '
Yup, that one makes me nervous. Uncomfortable. And perhaps it should.
And today’s Gospel is no easier.
“You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
A few years back, when I preached on this text, one of my members was quite upset after the sermon.
“Pastor, my husband put his Rolex watch in the offering plate this morning!”
OK, well I wasn’t expecting that.
What can we say about this text?
First a few comments:
An interesting shift occurs between the question that the young man asks Jesus, and the answer that Jesus gives.
The man asks what he must do to inherit eternal life?
Jesus responds by talking about the kingdom of God.
Are they one and the same? Or not?
Is it possible Jesus is dismissing the man’s concern about heaven and eternal life, and instead focuses on the Kingdom of God as a present reality in this world?
Secondly, the Gospel tells us that the man went away grieving for he had many possessions.
Was he grieving because he couldn’t give up those possessions and as a result inherit eternal life? Or because he did do as Jesus commanded and gave up everything? We don’t know what happened to him.
And thirdly, one of the questions we ask is “was Jesus speaking just to that man or to us as well?” Or we might ask if we are the ‘rich’ Jesus was speaking to, or did he mean those far richer than us. Compared to Bill Gates I’m not rich nor are you. So are we off the hook?
And finally, was Jesus’ intent actually that we should give up all that we have, and follow him? Or was his actual point that it was impossible for any of us to do anything to inherit eternal life—but what is impossible for us, is quite possible for God.
In this case we can entirely dismiss Jesus’ command to sell all that we have and give it to the poor, and then take comfort in the unconditional grace of God by which we are saved—apart from any action on our part.
What makes me uncomfortable is that in order to do this we have to dismiss Jesus’ own words, in favor of an easier interpretation of them.
And dismissing what Jesus’ says should make us uncomfortable.
Jesus says: for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. '
Jesus says: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
Do we simply ignore Jesus? Dismiss him? Or seek to do as he instructed us? And what is the consequence?
How will we be judged?
Will we be saved because we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the imprisoned?
Are we saved because we sold what we have and gave the money to the poor?
Now here, we can interject another couple of observations.
· Some might suggest that Jesus is being unrealistically idealistic. His command to sell everything and give it to the poor is just not sustainable.
· Furthermore, if we did sell all that we have and give it to the poor all that would happen is that they’d now be rich and we’d be poor. Wouldn’t that in turn mean that they should do the same for us?
That said, at the end of the day I’m left with the thought that we basically have two options:
Either we are going to find some basis for ignoring Jesus’ words and doing our own thing, or we take Jesus at his own word, and then become really uncomfortable.
Back to the matter of the Rolex watch.
I was faced with a dilemma. What to do?
Should I accept this man’s gift, sell the watch for what I could get, and give the money to the poor? The problem I had with that is that I’d only be able to sell the watch for a fraction of what it was worth.
Or should I have rejected this man’s gift, and basically told him that I didn’t mean THAT.
What I decided to do, was to give it back to him with the admonition that he could continue wearing it, but that he should remember that it was now God’s. And not only that, he should let it be a reminder that everything he had was God’s—and he was but a steward of these possessions.
“We give thee but thine own, whate’er the gift may be; all that we have is thine alone, a trust O Lord from thee.
“May we thy bounties thus, as stewards true receive. And gladly as thou blesses us, to thee our first fruits give.”
That’s the hymn we sing as we bring our gifts to the altar.
One of the ways we can take Jesus’ seriously is to offer ourselves and all that we have to him as faithful stewards.
We have been blessed with an abundance of riches.
We are called to be stewards, not owners.
Yes, with those riches we need to care for ourselves, we need to provide for our own food, and home, and all the other essentials of life and living.
But we are also responsible for other things as well.
One of the least popular responsibilities we have is to be responsible citizens, pay our taxes, and by doing so support all that our government is responsible for doing.
We are called to respond to the poor and all in need with compassion and mercy.
And for certain, we all called to offer our first fruits for the sake of the Gospel, and to provide for the ministry of the Church.
The stewardship question is this: Given all that we have been entrusted with, how would Jesus have us distribute it? How much should I spend on housing? On food? On other things like cars and toys, and travel? And how much should I give to the church? And what about the food bank? Or offering things such as these quilts to help those in need?
In the Old Testament we are instructed to tithe, to give the first 10% of our income to God.
In the New Testament, Jesus raises the stakes and expects us to offer 100% to him, managing all we have as stewards.
That’s the stewardship answer.
Another way to respond to these words of Jesus, is to focus on the last words of Jesus’ command:
sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.
This is a matter of discipleship.
Jesus said: " 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. ' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it:'You shall love your neighbor as yourself. '
Here we might ask the question: “What part of the word All don’t you understand?”
All your heart.
All your soul.
All your mind.
And yes, all your possessions.
The point is that Jesus will not settle for anything less than our “all”.
Jesus wants all of you, not just a part of you.
To follow Jesus is to give our entire life to him.
We are called to be both stewards and disciples.
OK. But back to the original question.
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Here I’m going to leave you with a thought.
How much did you do to deserve to be born?
Obviously, there’s nothing we could possibly do to deserve to be born, as we simply didn’t exist prior to that.
Life is a gift.
And if life is a gift, eternal life is as well.
There’s nothing you can do to earn it.
“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
May this peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.