Not so long ago, a friend and I had the chance to visit someone’s apartment who was very, very wealthy. It’s the kind of place where the doorman looks kind of like a secret service agent, and you need a key for the elevator, because it opens right onto the apartment. The folks we were visiting had been born into money. Wealthy their whole lives. They were kind, sweet people, but also seemed at times blissfully unaware of the reality of the lives of those around them.
As my friend and I left that evening and the elevator closed and began to descend to the first floor, I looked at my her and smiled and said, They’re such nice people. Too bad they haven’t had the opportunities we’ve had in life.
The detail that I love about our biblical story tonight is that Jesus tells the rich man, the man who has so many things, that he lacks something. And that something that he lacks, is that he has so many things. So, basically, he’s lacking one important element:
he’s lacking having less.
The wealthy folks I visited not so long ago, they were lacking having less too. Because of their wealth, they had been deprived of some very important experiences:
like struggle that is rewarded by achievement.
Risk that is followed by consequence.
Pain that is born by community.
Who knew that one could be so rich, and yet, be so poor?
I was joking when I said that they had fewer opportunities than my friend and I, but the more I thought about it, the more I believed it. I have never lived in poverty, and so I am blessed. But I have also never been wealthy. And this too, is a blessing.
This passage has been used in some troubling ways throughout the years.
Sometimes, it’s been used to say that those who live in poverty should see it as a blessing that keeps them close to God. But poverty is not blessed. Poverty is a type of violence used to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. Jesus is not blessing poverty in this story.
Sometimes, this story has been used to tell people who are poor that they should give up more. But Jesus it not talking to a poor person in this story. He is talking to someone who is rich. Someone who has many possessions.
The man who comes to Jesus is wealthy.
And, as it turns out, he’s a good Jew.
A good follower of the law.
Good teacher, he says. What must I do to inherit eternal life? It turns out he’s doing everything right. Following the law to a tee. He’s a life-long practitioner of the faith. But there’s something he’s lacking, Jesus tells him. Sell what you own and give the money to the poor. Then come, follow me.
And he can’t do it.
For this man is lacking having less.
His possessions are built up all around him,
piled high on every side,
as if his whole life,
he’s been building himself a prison.
Every field he’s purchased,
every orchard he’s acquired,
every house he’s built
and every household worker he manages,
each has built the tower higher and higher,
until he sort of forgot what it was like
to be anywhere other than inside.
It seems awfully safe in there.
And he’d rather not leave.
For the rich man,
each possession serves as a useful distraction from the truth.
For the tower around him
makes it easy to keep believing
that he only needs to rely on himself.
He approaches Jesus with a question that points to that very tower,
points to it so clearly:
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
As if he’ll do it all himself,
as if it’s something he can purchase
when he makes his weekly run to the market.
Jesus tells the disciples after he’s left:
For mortals, it is impossible,
but not for God.
For God, all things are possible.
We talked last week about Lent being a season of truth.
A season of stripping away anything and everything
that gets between us and God.
For this man, for this wealthy man,
those possessions of his mean that he can’t follow.
They mean that he can’t see the truth:
that it isn’t up to him,
it’s up to God.
What’s keeping you from following?
What are you holding onto that is getting between you and Jesus?
What are you fixing your eyes on that keeps you from fixing your eyes on God?
What are you using as the bricks for your own private tower?
A tower that keeps you feeling awfully safe,
but, in reality,
offers you no safety at all?
Jesus is calling us to follow.
Jesus is calling us to dismantle that tower around us
we’ve so carefully built up throughout the years,
not on ourselves,
but on God.
Perhaps tonight, you feel a little bit like Peter,
who hearing Jesus’ words,
panics, and says,
We have left everything and followed you!
And Jesus says,
Yes, and you will receive a hundredfold
in this age, and in the age to come.
You don’t have to worry.
You will have enough.
You won’t be lacking.
You won’t lack having less.