Thursday, October 12, 2006

You know the commandments

This week's gospel reading is the story of the rich young man who comes to Jesus asking how he may inherit eternal life. The opening verse portrays a sense of urgency in the man's request. Jesus was setting out on a journey when the man "ran up and knelt before him."

Barbara Rossing points out how much this looks like a healing story. This is the way they begin. Someone comes to Jesus and falls at his feet, begging for his help. See, for example, the stories of the leper in Mark 1:40, Jairus in Mark 5:22, and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:25. They all come before Jesus, kneel and ask for his help.

In this context, the action of this rich young man is something I can relate to. He doesn't need physical healing but spiritual healing, and he knows it. So he comes to Jesus, kneels and says, "Help me, Lord. What must I do?" He wants to be holy.

Jesus' response is blunt: "You know the commandments." This is the tragedy of trying to live a spiritual life. If it were just a matter of not knowing what must be done, we could imagine that if only we knew, we could do it. But we do know. As Moses says, "The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe." (Dt. 30:14)

At this point, I'm still hearing this story as an individual. But I want to turn now to receive it in a bigger context. The Old Testment lesson this week is from the prophet Amos. Amos is one of those prophets we Americans very much need right now. Amos speaks to those who "trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain" (Amos 5:11), those "who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate" (5:12).

I don't believe there are people (or at least not many people) in this country who intentionally and knowingly trample the poor. And yet by our actions, by our policies, we do just this. And we do it because we have many posessions. We would love to help the poor. We just aren't willing to jeopardize our own financial standing to do so.

And I don't think this just applies to Republicans. I suspect all of us who have many possessions know exactly how this feels. I am a bleeding heart liberal. I desperately want to help the poor. But I don't want to risk my own family's comfort to do it.

John Henry Newman once said, "the aim of most men esteemed conscientious and religious, or who are what is called honourable, upright men, is, to all appearance, not how to please God, but how to please themselves without displeasing Him." And that is why Amos stings. That is why when we say to Jesus, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth," we know it's not enough as well as he does.

But the good news, the Gospel in this week's gospel reading, is that when the young man said this, "Jesus, looking at him, loved him." The young man went away grieving. The disciples were astonished at all that happened and asked, "Then who can be saved?" But Jesus told them, "for God all things are possible," which leads me to this week's New Testament lesson: "the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword."

This week's readings cut me. They showed me a failing in myself and in my country. But it's a good cut. We don't know how the story of the rich young man ends. Maybe Jesus' words lead him to life. God kills and he makes alive. He strikes and he heals. He casts down and raises up. Through his Word we receive new life.


LutherPunk said...

This post made me recall a discussion that took place at a Buddhist-Christian monastic dialogue as recounted by Thomas Keating.

A venerable Buddhist monk said, "Our tradition teaches that if you meet the Buddha on the road, you should slay him. What do Christians say to that?"

Keating responded, "If you meet the Christ on the road, let HIM slay YOU."

sodbuster9 said...

Great post. A reminder that we all need God's spiritual healing. And we can take comfort in knowing He provides it, even when we fall short of doing the "rights" in the world.