God Who Gave Everything
Jim Chipps in VA
· And as he was setting out on a journey a man ran up and knelt before
him..... Theres an intensity about this man---the word isnt simply ran,
its raced up to him. A man driven by an urgent need. Who is he? The
early church gave this story the title the rich young ruler, but nothing in
the story suggests he was a ruler.
We are given no name. Perhaps thats Marks way of inviting us all of us to
identify with him. · We learn from the conversation that he is a successful person.
Hes a decent fellow who has sought to obey all the oughts. He is an
achiever and an accumulator. Perhaps today we would see him in the fit Reebok or Nike shod
Suddenly we realize that though separated by 2000 years, we have much in common with
him. We can identify outwardly with his striving to be a success, as the world calls
success. We can identify with him inwardly, too. Good Teacher, what must I do to
inherit eternal life? Thats a heavy question. A value-loaded question.
Questions of meaning and value are beginning to surface in his life--the road hes
racing on is beginning to look like I-66 and theres no exit anywhere near. The young
man is caught in a crisis of meaning, no longer sure of the race. It happens to most of
us, usually somewhere between 35 and 65. A nationally famous sportscaster once said,
Im near the top of the mountain I saw before me as a young man. Its
Perhaps youve reached a plateau--some advancements you thought youd have,
have passed you by. Your children are no longer dependent on you. Youve lost one or
both your parents. The thought of death, or long illness, and getting old and unable to do
what you want with your retirement years---these kinds of thoughts face you in the middle
of the night when you have to get up and pee one more time.
Is this all there is? Where is the promised quality in my life. Ive
played by the rules. You know the commandments, says Jesus, and lists them.
Ive kept these since my youth replies the man. And so have we, most of
them, most of the time. Weve been running all our lives by all the admonitions of
home, family, church and culture: brush your teeth and dont forget to floss, way
your prayers, work hard, obey the law, get ahead. The young man--and we--had lived by all
the imperatives imposed upon him from the outside. Thats the way we all grow---our
parents command, our teachers teach, our church preaches, society imposes its models and
definitions on us.
But sooner or later we get to the point where we have to do the deciding and choosing
on our own. The running man had reached that point. Mark tells us that Jesus looked at him
and loved him. The Lord understood. · You lack one thing: go, sell what you own,
give the money away, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me. St.
Francis took these words literally, and the world was made brighter by his decision.
Whether we take them literally or not, Jesus is asking us to cut out our dependency on
anything but him. So often our possessions represent our dependencies.
Story about Amish farmer who was watching his new neighbor move in. Off the moving van
came refrigerators, freezers, stereos, record collections, computers, VCRs, exercise
equipment, golf clubs. The next day the farmer and his wife went to introduce themselves
and delivered some fresh baked muffins and homemade jam. After the usual cordial
conversation, the farmer concluded the visit by saying, now, if anything should go
wrong with your appliances and equipment, dont hesitate to call me.
Thats very generous of you, the newcomer interrupted. No
problem, said the farmer, Ill just tell you how to live without
Jesus was asking the rich young man--and us--to die to attachments that can provide
only a temporary meaning in life. Possessions are one of those attachments, but there are
others. · Roberta Flack sings a song with an intriguing title, Let Pharaoh Go. We usually
think of pharaoh as the one who can make the decision to keep us or free us. But so often
the reverse is true. We do not want to let go of the things that hold us.--after all, the
things of this world give us a certain identity and assurance.
The theme of renunciation emerges in this encounter. Renunciation is a form of dying.
Most people think of death and resurrection as experiences at the end of life, not as
possibilities in the midst of life. It faces us daily. Christians have to die to many
things during a lifetime if we are to experience any new possibility. · Sometimes the
pharaoh in our lives is the role we play. Take, for example role of parent. The
satisfactions of being a parent are many. But weve all heard of the empty nest
syndrome--the feeling of emptiness when children are gone on their own and now there is a
crisis of identity. Or sometimes its the opposite effect--particularly I think among
some mothers--they cling to their role until death, continually trying to steer or
manipulate their childs (usually daughters) life, never letting them grow up.
Sometimes retirement from job or profession brings on a crisis. A friend once made a
comment about a man who seemed very unhappy and usually depressed: His problem was
he retired from the Army as a 2-star general, and no one gives a damn anymore.
Daring to risk to die to old dependencies is what resurrection faith is all about.
Its hard to do. When the rich young man heard what Jesus was asking him to do with
his possessions, he was shocked and went away grieving, because he had many
possessions. Really, though, his possessions had him. · And yet he was so close to
his quest for meaning. He just didnt pay attention to what he heard. When he said to
Jesus, Good Teacher, he didnt hear what Jesus said back: Why do
you call me good, no one is good but God. Jesus was telegraphing something---God
from God, light from light, true God from true God, was right there in front of him, and
he didnt recognize that in Jesus he would find his meaning in life.
Second, he didnt really hear what he said in his own question: What must I
do to inherit eternal life. You dont do anything to get an inheritance except
wait for someone to die---Jesus death, which he knew was coming, was the ticket to
resurrection life, and it would come to the young man as gift. Jesus looked at him and
loved him. Just as he looks at us and loves us. But rather than pulling up a chair and
resting in that love, finding new meaning for life in that love, he walked away.
Dont you walk away.
In a few minutes you and I are coming to a eucharistic feast where God takes some
possessions---bread and wine, time and talent and treasure and lives we have offered,
transforms them, and gives them back to us as something new and different--redeemed to
become instruments of Gods power and presence in this time and place. And he gives
us his own self.
The God who gave everything gives everything still.