October 10, 2021 - Proper 23 (20th Sunday after Pentecost)
Today’s Gospel reading is radical: a rich, young man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In response, Jesus tells him that he is lacking in one thing, and instructs him to go and sell what he has and give to the poor.
I mean, this is a pretty radical thing to do. Just think about what you own. Maybe a house? A car? A bed? And that’s just the beginning! How about your computer? Your cell phone? Your TV? And so on…
Early in our Christian history, people sold everything that they owned and set up religious orders, so that they could live together and share what they needed. So Jesus’ instruction to sell what you have and give to the poor is usually taken today as a call to religious life. If it is understood in that way, Jesus’ advice to the rich young man is one of the counsels of perfection. It explains what you have to do in order to be perfect in this life.
But there’s something to notice here… You don’t have to be perfect to go to heaven. You don’t have to be a member of a religious order to go to heaven. But going to heaven is what the young man was asking Jesus. So the answer Jesus gave the rich young man should have explained TO HIM what he had to do to get to heaven. A counsel of perfection is not, by its nature, an answer to the rich young man’s question.
Put it this way: if selling all he has and giving it to the poor is what the rich young man has to do to inherit eternal life, what about everyone else? Does everybody have to sell what they have in order to attain heaven? If you don’t sell everything you have, are you going to hell?
The solution to this puzzle is to think about the description of the man asking Jesus the question. He is the RICH YOUNG man. In other words, his gifts lie in his wealth.
Gifts are highly specific and varied. There are lots of gifts: gifts of learning, gifts of music, gifts of many other things. But whatever a person’s gifts are, they are meant to be given back in service. You cannot bury your talent (your gifts) in the ground and hope to please God.
So here is what you have to do to inherit life – you need to follow Jesus and use those gifts that you have to the fullest when you follow. Don’t give away your bed and sleep on the floor… unless you make beds and can give some to those in need. Don’t sing, sing, sing about meaningless things, but use your singing to share God with others. Don’t sell your home; share it with others over meals to bring God to others. Share your gifts with others to enhance your relationship and their relationship with God.