What must I do to inherit the Kingdom?
This is the question the rich young man asks Jesus. He’d followed all the laws, he’d apparently led an upright life, but there was still a sense of anxiety for this young man--he wasn’t 100% sure that he’d done all that he could to be part of God’s kingdom. We could psychoanalyze the young man to try to figure out the source of his anxiety, but that probably wouldn’t get us very far. We could judge ourselves against the young man--he was righteous and was worried, should I be worried? Have I done all that I can do? Again, questions that might not get us very far.
So what if we took it a step further and looked at Jesus’ response--surely the answer to riddle is there. Jesus says to the young man--he tells him to give away everything he owns to the poor. Well, I don’t know about you, but my response to Jesus may have been much like the young man’s--really, everything? I have to give away EVERYTHING?! Nevermind.
Well, we don’t like that answer. It’s too hard. We enjoy the comforts of our lives--our homes, cars, the food we eat, the clothes we wear. Some of us may have more financial resources than others. Some of us may have experienced times of financial insecurity in our lives. Some of us may be saving our pennies for a rainy day, while others are living paycheck to paycheck. So the idea of giving everything away is scary. We can come up with a million reasons why we shouldn’t give away everything. That’s probably why Jesus told his disciples that he knew that it wasn’t an easy thing to inherit the kingdom.
But what if we thought about this story in a slightly different, more nuanced way?
When the young man asks Jesus about inheriting the kingdom, we assume that he’s coming with pure intentions. The gospel writer gives us no reason to think that the young man is trying to challenge Jesus, so we have to believe that he’s asking out of a place of deep desire to know and relieve his anxiety. And before Jesus responds, the gospel says Jesus looked at him and loved him.
In the original Greek, the phrase “to look at” is really “sees into”. Jesus saw into this young man’s heart. I wonder what he saw? My guess is that this young man is much like many of us here--we intellectually KNOW all the things we’re supposed to do or be--we know that as Christians we’re supposed to love our neighbor, to care for the poor, to feed the homeless and clothe the naked--we KNOW this stuff. But in our hearts---well, how well do we know this stuff? In our hearts are we able to give up our ego, our expectations, our power and status? In our hearts, are we able to truly live as Jesus calls us to? My guess is that when Jesus looked at the young man, he saw that even though he was living righteously, he hadn’t truly changed in his core being. That kind of change--the willingness to give up EVERYTHING--is hard.
About once a year I go back and read passages from a couple of books that have had a big impact on my own change of heart. One of them is Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead. In her book she explores the myth of scarcity and how much that myth controls our lives. Brown explains that:
Scarcity is the ‘never enough’ problem….Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants. (pg 26)
She goes on to explain that this sense of scarcity doesn’t just happen overnight, but rather there’s a formula to how scarcity develops in a community: it’s based in shame (self-worth is tied to achievement, productivity or compliance), comparison (being held to narrow standards and ideal expectations), and disengagement (being afraid to take risks or try new things).
If we observe the young man, we can see that while he had wealth, he was concerned about what he was lacking--that he was unsure of what he must DO to be part of God’s Kingdom. Most likely he was a successful person and he appears to be knowledgeable about the Torah, but his unwillingness or perhaps inability to engage those unlike himself--to give away everything--was too much. He couldn’t or wasn’t able to let go of who and what he was to try a new way of being in community.
And really, that’s what this whole lesson from Jesus is about. It isn’t about figuring out what you can live without, it isn’t even necessarily about giving away all your possessions and money. It’s about letting go in order to be made new in the kingdom. God doesn’t live in a world of scarcity...everything that God has to give is given abundantly, freely, and without strings attached. That’s part of why it’s so hard for us...we’re not God. We worry about not having or not being enough. Instead of understanding that the kingdom of God is about what you can be, can do or can give, it’s about having faith that God loves us, supports us, and truly wants the best for us. It’s not about us--it’s about God.
So I invite all of us to consider what in our lives we need to let go of so that our hearts can be more open to God’s grace and generosity. I invite us to consider, if Jesus were to see into our hearts, would he see someone who is open, trusting, generous and loving? Would he see someone who cares about their community, not just themselves? Would he see someone who is ready to be transformed? What would Jesus see when he looks into our hearts?
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.