Job 42:1-6, Luke 18:18-34
April 6, 2014
This Lenten season we’ve been following the theme of “The Road to the Cross.” We’ve been looking at some of the stories, some of the events in the life and ministry of Jesus that led him down that road. We’ve seen how he upset some people, and how he challenged the social, religious, and political norms of the day. We’ve seen how he caused divisions in the ranks of the religious leadership.
Well, the story today has to do with following Jesus. And we need to ask ourselves, do we follow him? And if we do, does that mean following him all the way to the cross? In his day, not everyone was willing to do that. And even though he said “everyone who would follow me must take up the cross,” I’m not so sure we’re willing to do that, either.
This passage starts with a story we often refer to as “The Rich Young Ruler.” Here this man comes to Jesus and asks him about being part of God’s kingdom. “Good teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” But in his exchange, Jesus challenged his “status quo,” which, as we said, was one of the things that took him down that road to the cross!
Notice the interesting way the man asked this question! He didn’t ask “what must I do to have eternal life. He asked “what must I do to inherit eternal life.” To me, that’s always been a very interesting way of putting this! And I have to wonder if that was his life. Would that would have been a normal way of thinking to a rich ruler of the synagogue? Would things like inheritances, assets, and family property simply have been a major part of this man’s “everyday speech.”
Well, Jesus answers him. And as we look at this, his first answer is probably the easiest part of this for us to understand. It’s what we would have expected, isn’t it! “Keep the commandments.” he said. We get that, don’t we? It’s not so easy to follow, but we understand what Jesus was talking about here. But the man seemed to be searching for something more. “I’ve done all that.” he said. So then Jesus says something to him that was much more uncomfortable. And I’m guessing it sounds pretty uncomfortable to us as well. “Simple!” he said. “Just sell all that you have, give to the poor, and then follow me.”
Well, as you know, the man went away very sadly. What Jesus said was not easy. And again, Jesus didn’t tell everybody to do that. But he wanted this man to see what was really standing in his way of reaching the kingdom! His problem was that he had a lot of things. It was that they had become to him the most important thing in life. And so he walked away. So in reaction, Jesus gave his disciples this little metaphor about the camel and “the eye of the needle.”
Well, I have to tell you that Darryl totally burst my bubble on this. He said that the things people have been saying about this over the years are historically unfounded. People have said that “the eye of the needle” was a narrow gate in Jerusalem. And that in order to get a camel through that gate, the camel would have to be unloaded. That’s a great metaphor for us having to unburden our lives in order to get into the kingdom. Well, apparently(?) there was no such gate. But even if that’s true, I think the metaphor still stands. Whether there was such a gate, or whether this was simply another one of Jesus’ exaggerations, he was clearly telling us that the things that we have can indeed get in the way of our seeing the kingdom. Sometimes we have to let them go! Sometimes we have to unburden ourselves from them!
So, I would say that what Jesus was telling us is that following is hard to do if there’s “too much stuff in the way.” And notice I didn’t say simply “if there’s too much stuff.” I said if there’s “too much stuff in the way!” This man’s riches were not the problem. It was how he felt about them. Personally, I’ve know a number of wealthy people who did not let their riches get in the way of the kingdom. And I’m sure that wasn’t always easy for them! I’m sure they had to work on that attitude. They had to choose to seek first the kingdom!
Now, I know what you might say! “Sure it’s not that big a deal for a rich person. They don’t have to worry about making ends meet like we do!” And I suppose there’s some truth to that. When things are tight for us, we worry, don’t we? So this whole thing might be even harder for us! I want to acknowledge that. But I would also acknowledge that Jesus was speaking to everyone, not just this rich man! Whatever the reason for the difficulties of following him, he still concluded that, “With God, nothing is impossible!” We need to be careful of trying to rely only on our own strength in all this!
Well, the next thing that happened is that the disciples gave their reaction to this story. They said to Jesus, “What about us?” “We’ve left our homes and families to follow!” And his response to them was very honoring of that! “Anyone who leaves home or wife or brothers or children will receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come, eternal life” So is that the way we follow? Not many of us! Leaving home and family would hardly be a practical thing for everyone to do. But this is another one of those places where Jesus is using exaggeration to make his point. What he was saying was, “Anyone who seeks first the kingdom of God, anyone who has that priority, will receive manifold…” So, following Jesus is a matter of prioritizing our lives to his kingdom. And like the rich young ruler here, that’s not easy!
Well, finally, Jesus took this to the last level. In the final part we read, he said, “I am going down a hard road. I’m going to Jerusalem.” And he laid out in detail what was in store for him there. And then it says “the disciples did not grasp what he was saying.” And I think that was the case, not only from the standpoint of the whole self-sacrifice thing, but it also has to do with the statements he previously made.
Way back in Luke 9:23 he said, “If any man would come after me let him take up his cross, and follow me” That’s what happens when we follow along this road. I wonder if the disciples thought he was speaking again in metaphors again. Maybe they thought he was again exaggerating to make a point. Did they ever really think he was talking about an actual cross? Well, now he was. And he was being very specific about that. And maybe they realized at that point that that was the road on which they were following him!
It was said the other night, and I agree, that following Jesus has never meant that life would be easy and there would be no worries. What he promised was that we would be able to handle it! And he promised that we could still have the joy of his kingdom – no matter what the circumstances of our lives!
That’s good news! Following Jesus may not be going down an actual road for us. It might not lead to an actual cross. But it is a matter of being his disciples, of listening to his voice, of seeking his kingdom. And it is knowing that is not always easy. And make no mistake! Like that rich young ruler, he will upset the “status quo” of our lives. He will call us out of our comfort zone. He will call us to reach out to, and to love people we might otherwise not care to love.
The only question that remains this Lenten season is, will we follow? Or will we just believe?
Heavenly Father, help us to know the strength you give us through your Holy Spirit. Help us to follow Jesus as we get to the end of his story. And help us to know that it’s really just the beginning – for him and for us. This we pray in his name, Amen.