I have an important question to ask you. How many of you are here today because you hoped to be looked at in love by Jesus?
Come on, let’s have a show of hands!
If you’re hand isn’t up, then I’m assuming that maybe you came here to be judged, or to be scowled upon by an angry and judgmental God?
Let’s have a show of hands for that.
Well then, I think we can all agree that we came here in the sure hope and expectation that Jesus would look upon us with love.
But, as this Gospel shows us, such a look does not mean that we are not challenged!
In the Gospel this day a man who is identified as being “Rich” comes to Jesus with a fascinating question.
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit Eternal life?”
It’s a fascinating question, because on a certain level it is nonsense! How do you do something to get an inheritance??
Oh sure, we might talk about sucking up to Aunt Elsie or being nice to Uncle Tom in hopes of being included in their will, but the point of an inheritance is that it is a gift! You get it because of who you are not because of what you do!
Whether you are nice or nasty, the gift comes your way first and foremost because of the relationship that you have with the one who gives the inheritance.
So, why is this man asking this question? What makes him think he may be missing something, or missing out on something?
We get a glimpse into that when Jesus questions him back. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments…,” and then Jesus lists the commandments, and the man affirms to Jesus that he has kept all of these commandments since his youth.
Now, this is the point at which we kind of glaze over and aren’t paying really close attention. Our mind shifts to automatic pilot and we fail to hear what is really said.
To make sure that we have that down, let’s take a closer look at these commandments that Jesus lists here.
“You shall not murder.”
“You shall not commit adultery.”
“You shall not steal.”
“You shall not bear false witness.”
“You shall not defraud.”
“Honor your mother and father.”
Now let’s see, that’s 6.
“Defrauding” is an interesting commandment. Maybe that is the 9th and 10th about coveting and getting your neighbor’s property by scheming, at which case we are at 7 commandments referenced by Jesus.
How many commandments are there again?
I have a vague memory of there being 10!
So, what do we make of this? Didn’t Jesus know the commandments?
Or, is the point here that it is the man who doesn’t really know the commandments, though he says he’s kept them since his youth?
Or, is there something else going on here.
Which commandments are missing from this list?
“I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me!”
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”
The list Jesus gives is missing the first three!
If you remember your catechism, you might remember that those first three commandments are all about our relationship to God. We sometimes refer to that as “the vertical relationship.”
Commandments four through ten are about the “horizontal relationships” of living in community, how we are to live in relationship with one another.
Is this what Jesus is doing?
He looks at this man, and loves him, and in a sense sees right through him!
Here is a man who has lived a good life, yes!
Here is a man who has been doing very well for himself.
Here is a man who by all outward appearances has everything together. He is Rich! But, here also is a man who isn’t so sure about what the future holds.
Is this all there is? The success I’ve found in this life?
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
How do I hold on to all that I have? How do I get more than what this world has to offer? How do I continue on beyond what this life has to offer?
“You lack only one thing.” Jesus says with that look of love.
Here the man stands, looking God in Christ Jesus in the face, and the look he is getting is a look of love!
Make sure you understand that, see that, Oh people!
This is not a scowling face upset with the man or with his actions.
This is not a disapproving face. It is not a face that judges this man for what he has done or left undone.
No, Jesus looks at him, and loves him, it says.
Jesus then goes on to say, “You lack only one thing….the thing that is found in the first three commandments, attention to your relationship with God!
And now, here is an opportunity to have that. “Sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
This is where we get distracted.
It sounds like Jesus is asking him to give up everything.
He does not say that. Jesus doesn’t say “sell everything” just “sell what you own.”
What Jesus does invite the man to do is to follow him, and in order to do that, he will have to take a hard look at what is standing between himself and the relationship with God, the inheritance that is his all along.
What is in the way?
“Stuff” is in the way. Stuff!
The comedian George Carlin has a routine that he does on “Stuff.” In a way that only a comedian can, he makes us laugh at ourselves and recognize the silliness of our preoccupation with our possessions.
“What are our houses after all?” Carlin begins, “It’s just a place for us to store our stuff. We make a pile of stuff, and we put a roof over it!”
“And, then, when we get too much stuff, we need a bigger house for our stuff.”
“When we run out of room there, we rent storage for our stuff. Imagine that, a whole industry designed to help us with our stuff!” Carlin point out.
“When we travel, we take our stuff along!” He continues, “Not all our stuff, just enough stuff to make us feel at home. But we never really feel at home when we travel.
Because of all the stuff that other people have in our way. There’s no place for my stuff!
Ever notice that our stuff is always ‘good stuff’ but other people’s stuff is “junk?” Carlin remarks.
“Where did they get all this stuff??? Pretty soon we have our stuff spread out all over the place, and we have a hard time keeping track of all our stuff.”
By the end of the comedy routine, Carlin makes a confession.
“I started out having all this stuff, and now all this stuff has me!”
It is a profound observation!
This is the plight of the Rich man in our Gospel. His eyes are set on the things of this world.
Oh, he has kept all the commandments since his youth that relate to his neighbors in a sense, so long as they did not impede on his ability to acquire and to own.
He has probably done exceedingly well by himself!
There is a 1st century proverb that states, “Every rich man is either the thief or the son of a thief.”
In 1st Century Judea under Roman occupation you gained wealth in one of two ways.
You were either born into it and bribed your way into keeping it so the Romans didn’t take everything, or you collaborated with the occupying forces and did their bidding for which you were rewarded monetarily and with the property that was confiscated.
What the Rich Man lacks is a relationship with God that can give him the assurance of a life that is more than just “stuff” and his attention to the “stuff.”
What keeps him from receiving that gift that is his inheritance from God, is the stuff itself!
So, Jesus looks at him, and loves him, and says, “you lack only one thing…sell your possessions.”
Do what you know would be good to do, which is to give to the poor, to help your neighbor.
You already know about those commandments, act upon them!
Then freed from you preoccupation with the “stuff,” come, follow me. Get rid of the “stuff” that holds you back!
We are told that that when he heard this, the man was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
The stuff got in the way.
You didn’t come here today to be scowled at by an angry God.
You didn’t come here today to listen to some guy in a white robe who gets paid plenty stand up here and tell you that you should sell everything you have and give it away.
You came here today to be looked at in love by Jesus.
So did I.
But the look of love from Jesus requires that all of us.. me included… look at the stuff that gets in the way of our relationship with a loving God.
The look of love from Jesus who desires to give us all things as an inheritance, as a free gift of Grace, requires that we deal with the things that would get in the way of such Grace.
Whatever it is; your stuff, my stuff–possessions, long held convictions, and presumptions about what the bible says… Whatever it is that keeps us from seeing the look of love in the face of Jesus for us this day, — that is what we need to get rid of today!
We don’t have to do anything to inherit eternal life. That is the truth!
But seeing Jesus look at us in love is meant to prompt us to do some things because of the power of that relationship with God.
Because God looks at me in love, — can I let go of some of my stuff for the sake of the one who is in need?
Because God looks at me in love, —and looks at others in love as well; — will I put away my pre-conceptions about what others should or should not have or do?
That is a matter, after all, for them to resolve with the God who also looks at them in love!
Because God looks at me in love, — am I free now to give, free to live, free to love and free to serve?
I don’t do these things to earn or inherit anything.
The inheritance is mine because I am a child of God and because it is God’s good pleasure to give God’s children the Kingdom – the inheritance!
It is God who has called me and made me God’s own precious child, claimed me in love, looked at me in love!
I do these commandments, these things, because of that look!
The look that invites me to put relationship with God and neighbor above all else.
Beloved in the Lord, you are this day, looked at in love by Jesus, — remember that!
With that look of love there comes an invitation.
You are free to follow.
Eternal life is given as a free gift of Grace.
What stuff will you let go of, dispose of, — so that it won’t get in the way of that one thing that we all desire most – our inheritance from God?