Today’s gospel is very familiar territory. Lots of well worn phrases including that enigmatic image of the camel and the eye of a needle and again all things are possible for God. The first will be last and the last first too! Everything seems surprising… if not challenging.
The scene we enter is familiar to us too… a person approaching Jesus and asking a question…. But what a question! “
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Perhaps the first most important thing to realise is that the question we hear is not probably the one we thought.
The man is not asking about life after death.
Today we naturally jump to this conclusion because we have focused on this point too much ourselves. It is common currency to us, but it was not so in Jesus time.
The idea of life after death was actually quite a new concept and was still (perhaps still is) in formation.
Eternal life was not life after death.
In the same way the phrase Kingdom of God, or Kingdom of heaven does not translate into something that is beyond this world.
When Jesus says, “the time has arrived, the kingdom of God is upon you, Repent and believe the gospel” (Opening chapters of Mark) he was not talking about something yet to happen, something for the future. Jesus was talking about the present moment.
So what must I do to inherit eternal life?
The man was a devote person, he always had been. He had kept the commandments as he had been taught. There is no reason at all to suppose he was not telling the truth here. He had indeed done everything possible to lead a good and holy life.
Another fascinating thing in this passage which we can easily miss is that “looking at him, Jesus loved him”.
This is an exchange made in love not in any sense of judgement or even testing. Jesus recognises his holiness and honours it.
With love for him, the Lord said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
As we have noted people in Jesus Day were still in two minds about life after death. It was getting more popular to think in such terms but it was not universal belief. Eternal life however does not mean life until the end of time. It did not mean life after death.
Life and Eternal life was not about quantity, but quality. Eternal life means a deep connection with the ageless and invincible values of the Kingdom of God. Eternal life describes a quality of relationship between human beings and God, bringing us into a present knowledge and experience with the loving and living spirit of God.
I wonder why we jump to the conclusion it is all about quantity or lastingness of life rather than a qualitative thing.
Elsewhere Jesus tells us that he came to bring life and life in all its fullness… a passage I love and echo so often.
We have turned Heaven into a reward system when it was not about this at all… it has always been about promise.
Jesus loved this man before him. The man in turn loved God and followed all the commandments. But he was also held back in a growing relationship with God by “stuff” by possessions (and wealth).
I dare say we can all recognise what holds our relationship with God back. What prevents us growing. I dare say we know what our attachments are.
I dare say we may know what Jesus would tell us is the one thing we lacked…..
What is it that we need to give up in order to gain what is much more valuable? Is it greed or prejudice – ignorance or pride – anger or the need to control others, the inability to acknowledge our sins of hurting others or the “things we have left undone” or something else?
We probably know!
In a material world with so much emphasis on reward and punishment and gain and loss it is so easy to respond to God with similar driving forces.
Jesus tells us the Kingdom of heaven is already upon us… enter with Joy into the kingdom. Let us grow further in God and not hold back, God is ready to greet us as the Father did to his wayward Son.