A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (New International Version)
The sorts of questions we ask say a lot about us. We might classify all questions into genuine curiosity and self-justification. This includes the tone of voice and affect in which the question is asked.
The wealthy man in today’s Gospel lesson asked a question. Rather than his tone being one of truly seeking to know, and his affect reflecting an authentic desire to know, instead he had his nose held high with a sanctimonious sounding expression. The man was mostly after a divine sanction of his lifestyle and his spirituality.
It doesn’t take the Son of God to know that this guy was pompously trying to angle for some kudos from Jesus about his superior life. But Christ, rather than blowing off the rich man or just blasting him for being a peacock, answered his question and led the man to what is most important.
One way of looking at the interaction between the rich man and Jesus is that it was an intervention. The rich man was addicted to wealth and money, but he didn’t see it. And he wanted validation that his way of life was sanctioned by the Almighty.
The rich man believed himself to be quite godly and spiritual – an upstanding citizen, a religious man, attentive to God’s law. It’s a sad story because he walked away un-transformed by his encounter with Jesus and refused to follow him. He didn’t see himself as hopeless and desperately needing to change. He held to his denial.
We are all addicted to sin. If you want to push back on that statement and are thinking, “Well, I don’t have as much money as _____” or, “So-and-so really has a problem with this…” then you are practicing what we call, in terms of addiction, denial.
Truth be told, all of us are in some sort of denial about how much we really trust in paychecks, bank accounts, investments, and a wealth of stuff. Even people who are truly in poverty can also be addicted to wealth by always thinking about money and wishing for it as the answer to their problems, as if wealth is the highest good to attain in life.
Jesus put the problem out there for us all to see by communicating to us that sin cannot be managed – rather, sin needs to die.
The good news is that by honestly facing up to our own addiction to things we can find grace. Grace always has the last word. Grace trumps addiction to money, stuff, and anything else.
God’s love and acceptance is not conditional. Both the wretched sinner and the pompous peacock will find Christ’s forgiveness through the cross. Jesus put sin to death. We are simply invited to bring it out in the open, confess it, and follow Jesus.
One question that delights the heart of God, and reflects a humble and penitent spirit from us is this: “Will you forgive me, Lord?”
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.