Matthew 19:16, 21
16 Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’
21Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’
This scripture has its roots deep in mosaic history, for it is Moses who tells the children of Israel to choose life over death (Deuteronomy 30:19). Jesus is also asking the rich young man, and me, to choose life over death and as the sadness of the rich young man demonstrates that choice is a lot harder than what it seems.
Choose life or come follow me, same request different words and the rich young man had as much difficulty with that choice as the children of Israel did. One important question left unspoken is “if I choose a life in which I use the best of who I am, will my choices ask a lot of me?” Ah, now I’ve stated the real question and have come to the hard part; if I choose to follow Jesus, and as a result choose life, what do I have to give up? I ask myself will what I choose be what I want or what the Spirit wants. And, if I choose the Spirits path will I have to work hard at it? You see we humans, no matter who we are, will nearly always choose the easy route and the easiest path isn’t always the best one to take if we want to be the best we can be.
I have had two angels who have followed me every day of my life, often sitting on opposite shoulders whispering in my ear. The Angel Ego always tells me take the easy path, why work hard when you don’t have to. “See there are no rocks in this path and you don’t have to expend much energy to be happy.” On the other shoulder sits Angel True Self who is also whispering in my ear and that one asks me what really makes me satisfied an easy life or one that challenges me and leaves me honored to have lived it? Do you see the difference between the two angels, Ego is telling me what to do and I don’t have to think about what my actions will be. True self asks me what I think and leaves the choice up to me. I have to choose, to make a decision and decisions take work, just like taking the path that is difficult. I have to choose what is rewarding and what is not; life over death.
Jesus doesn’t tell the rich young man which is easier rather he offers the hard choice “if you wish to be perfect …,” to have eternal life, this is what will help you reach your goal. It’s a simple statement but the choice is left up to the young man. We don’t know what he chooses in the end, I am hoping that life was his choice and he sold his belongings and followed in Jesus footsteps, but I will never know.
That’s what makes this scripture so important and why, I think Matthew left me hanging. I too have asked Jesus what I must do to have eternal life and Jesus has given me the same answer. Choosing to give up all that you have to follow the life of Jesus in today’s world is never easy. All of us are inundated with advertisements and peer pressure to be some kind of plastic person that has the latest everything. Having ‘stuff’ and being ‘young’ is more important than being a person of integrity. All of us are susceptible to the junk that bombards us daily.
I have had to develop questions to ask myself before I buy anything; is this necessary, do I really need it to live, and the two most important, how much space will this take up in my life and do I have to dust it. I can tell you right now if I have to dust it, it ain’t coming home with me!
My one truly great weakness is books. Not e-books (I still don’t know how people can read on a tiny lighted screen, the light hurts my eyes) but real books, paper or hardbound, I can hold in my hand and feel the weight of. I love the smell of books, the way they feel when I hold them as I curl up in front of the fire place and the connection I feel with the author as I read the printed word. E-readers simply leave me cold and yes I know I’m in the minority but that is OK with me. So I have been known to buy a few books, Ok, a lot of books, and now that I’ve made my confession to my addiction I am at peace and I can continue to buy books.
So we all have our weaknesses and I admit If I had to choose between life and books I would be hard pressed (sorry for the pun) to choose. Think of it this way Jesus isn’t asking us to give up our lives (well he is but not in the way you think) rather he is asking us to make careful choices that enrich our lives and allow us to be open to giving compassion, doing kindness, and working for justice and peace.
Books add meaning to my life and help me see the world through different eyes. That different view helps me see injustice and unkindness in new ways, ways that encourages me to be more like my true self. It is when books become the idol I worship that the problem occurs, then I am blinded to what is wrong in the world and want only to feed my own desires. I hope if that ever happens to me that someone will intercede and help me see the light.
Choosing life or following Jesus doesn’t mean we abandon the world around us. Rather it means we embrace and engage the world just as Jesus did. Jesus loved a good party, good food and fine wines and we too are called to share our parties, food and wine with the world, just as Jesus did. It does not mean we are to become paupers, rather it means we are to use what we have for the good of the community. That is what Jesus meant when he told the young man to sell his goods and give to the poor. Quit being selfish and share your good fortune with those who are in need. God gave each of us the gift of grace and God expects us to pass that gift on to those who are in need of comfort.
It is the concept of “paying it forward.” If you have received help in any way from someone then you are obligated to give help to someone else. Jesus wasn’t the first one to propose paying it forward, all of the prophets before and since have done the same, but, I think his was the most eloquent in stating it.
So what do we do we need to do to have “eternal life?” Well, we pay our lives forward, care for those in need, fight injustice and work for peace. It will require us to give up many of our riches. But at the same time we will be enriched, not with stuff, or pride, but, with knowledge that we have passed on the grace we’ve been gifted and multiplying that gift many times over; just like Jesus did when he broke the loaves and fish. To me that feels like eternal life, peace, happiness and joy all wrapped up in one glowing package.
Ruth Jewell, ©February, 19, 2013