Phew. We have very HEAVY readings this week! This lectionary weighs a ton! Today, everyone seems to be looking for God. Have you ever felt like you are crying out to God and ... no one is listening?
We start off with that cheery guy: Job. Job has lost everything, including his children. He has suffered greatly as his faith is tested. He looks everywhere for God but God cannot, will not be found. Listen to him: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.” Where us God? Job’s despair knows no bounds.
We come next to Psalm 22 where the psalmist asks: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” Again, we have someone desperately crying out to God, seeking God and he too, is unsuccessful. This poor guy feels so bad he says he is a worm, not a man!
Then we have our Gospel, guaranteed to make us squirm in our seats. In this story we have another man looking for God, seeking eternal life. Let us read this very carefully. First, take note of the beginning. Jesus is on a journey. Where is he going? He is on his way to Jerusalem where he knows he will suffer and die. So forgive him if he seems a bit cranky.
The eager young man runs up and kneels before Jesus. This very story is told in Luke, Mark and Matthew and between the three of them, we know that this man is young, rich and a ruler. Lucky guy, huh? Despite seeming to have everything, he runs, RUNS up to Jesus, falls to his knees in the dirt and asks him how he can inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him the basic stuff: follow the ten commandments. “Phew!” the young man sighs, “I’m good. I’ve been following them all the days of my life!”
Jesus looks at him steadily and is filled with love for him. Can you picture it? The fine young man kneeling before Jesus, seeking God with all his heart and Jesus looking down at him with love pouring out of him.
Jesus wonders to himself, “How can I make him understand? How can I shake him up enough to really want to change his ways?” So he goes to the very heart of this young man: “you must sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor. In this way you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
Ouch! Jesus tells him to put his money where his mouth is. Well, our poor, dear young man is crestfallen. He goes away, still very rich but sad. Jesus is just asking too much of him. Jesus says with sympathy, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”
Huh? The disciples were astounded by Jesus’ words. He continues; “Oh, my dear children. It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.”
Jesus turns the world upside down for everyone here. The rich are rich because they have been rewarded by God. The poor are poor because they are being punished by God. Thus went the thinking of that time. Sometimes I think I still hear that message today.
There are 412 billionaires in this country. Brace yourself for this number: there are over 3 million millionaires! At the same time, in the same country, more than 46 million people live in poverty, including 1 out of every 5 children. Let me say that again: 1 out of every 5 children lives in poverty. Something seems pretty out of whack.
But we can find good news in these numbers. Bill and Melinda Gates have given away 30 billion dollars to charity and intend to give away most of their remaining 20 billion dollars. Warren Buffet is worth $44 billion dollars and he has pledged to give away 99% of it before he dies. Andrew Carnegie, who built 3000 libraries, including the one in Hoquiam, liked to say; “the man who dies rich dies disgraced.” So, Jesus would be pleased to see these rich people giving away most of what they have to help the poor.
I wonder if the problem Jesus has is not just with money and possessions but in the level of attachment we have to those things. A key teaching of Buddhism is that all suffering starts with clinging and attachment. If we spend out lives tightly clutching things how on earth can our hands be free to do God’s work? I think the saying, “Let go, Let God” applies here.
You know, Jesus so often turns us all upside down with his teachings. He shocks us much as he shocked the disciples, the Pharisees, everyone who encountered him. At the deepest core of his teachings is a Hebrew word: metanoia, which means repenting, turning, changing. Becoming new in Christ. We can’t just plod along, following the ten commandments and figuring we’ve got it made. Nope - that is what the rich, young man did but Jesus told him he had to change from a rich man to a poor man. He had to change his very identity.
The astounded, shocked disciples ask, “Then who can be saved?”
Are you ready for some good news? I am! It seems that no one can find God in today’s readings. We have had Job, then the desperate psalmist, and now the crestfallen young man. But, listen to what happens to Job: “God restored Job’s condition. More than that, God gave him double what he had before. God blessed Job’s latter condition even more than his former one.” God found Job and Job found God.
Our psalm ends this way: “(God) has not despised nor disregarded the poverty of the poor, has not turned away his face but has listened to the cry for help.” God was sought and God was found.
And our rich, young man? He walked away thinking that he had no chance of finding God. The things Jesus asked of him just did not seem possible. Here is what we must remember when life seems too hard: Jesus tells his friends that “for mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” This reminds me of my favorite Bible verse from Philippians: “I can do anything with Christ who strengthens me.”
Today we read about people seeking God and not seeming to find him. The important thing is that they were seeking and when they did, God heard them. God found them. God answered their prayers.
When we cry out to God, when we seek God, God hears. God listens. God is with us.