By Heather Blais
Last week, we reflected on what it means to be a beloved community of the broken and blessed. This week, we continue the conversation.
As Jesus began to set out on a journey, a rich young man approached him and asked, “What do I need to do to have eternal life.”1 . To which Jesus offered, “You know what to do--follow the commandments.” Relieved, the rich young man assured Jesus he’d kept them all since he was a boy. And at that very moment, Jesus, looked at him, loved him, and said, “You lack one thing; sell everything you own, give the money to the poor, then come and follow me.” The young man was shocked; and he went away with a heavy heart, for there was a great deal he wasn’t ready to let go of.
When we hear this passage, it’s easy to think it might not apply to us. After all, someone else always has more than we do. Which makes it a good lesson, for someone else. Yet, if we are being brutally honest with ourselves, Jesus is actually talking to us. Because we all withhold parts of ourselves from God, at least some of the time. Holding back when we don’t want to risk being vulnerable, or when we aren’t ready to forgo the comforts which help us cope with everyday life.
In fact, Nick Cuccia suggests in today’s stewardship reflection that when Jesus tells us to sell everything, he is calling us to: “Abandon all of your unhealthy attachments. Let go of the things, habits, thoughts, doubts, addictions, false securities, and fears that hold you back. Have faith. Stretch yourself. Seize the moment and take risks.” 2
Jesus is asking the rich young man, and us, to abandon our unhealthy attachments so we can actually follow him. This requires that we acknowledge our brokenness, that we stop trying to cover it up or cope using unhealthy practices. It requires that we lose everything to follow Jesus. Yet it is only when we are willing to lose everything, that we learn what it means to truly live.
After this exchange, Jesus turned to his perplexed disciples.3 He told them it is so difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, that it would actually be easier for a camel to go thru the eye of a needle. And while that sounds harsh, it’s also true. The richer we are in material goods, the more opportunity and means we have to acquire unhealthy attachments. Yet, you can also be dirt poor and unwilling to surrender yourself fully to God.
To put it another way, it could be said it is so difficult for those unwilling to surrender themselves fully to God, that it would actually be easier for a camel to go thru the eye of a needle, than for us to enter the kingdom of God.
The disciples were astounded--how could anyone possibly have a chance at eternal life? Jesus looked at his disciples and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Through God, all things are possible. If our eyes are focused on God, if we fully surrender ourselves to God by offering our whole, broken selves--then God will make the impossible, possible. That is what it means to follow Jesus.
Now Peter, like many of us, gets a bit anxious about Jesus’ lesson.4 Speaking on behalf of the other disciples, Peter politely tries to tell Jesus: “Look, we’ve tried our best to leave everything behind. We’ve tried to abandon our unhealthy attachments, to fully surrender ourselves so we might follow you--but honestly, it’s hard.” Jesus lovingly tells Peter--anyone who tries to leave everything behind--their belongings, their wealth, their unhealthy attachments--and follow me, will receive a hundredfold now and in eternal life. Jesus is telling us that we are called to both sell everything AND live abundantly. And as confusing as that may sound, we know from our lived experience that when we choose to follow Jesus, to let go of our wealth and unhealthy attachments, that we are choosing to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are choosing to be part of the movement that is changing the world from the nightmare it is to so many, into the dream God created it to be.5 We are choosing to be part of a family of brothers and sisters in Christ that seeks to make a lasting difference in our local community and the wider world, and it is deeply meaningful.
I remember when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Up until that point, I suspect my mom may have unconsciously prided herself on not needing anyone’s help. Rather, she was the one always at the ready to be of help. She was always willing to serve--whether it be in worship on Sunday mornings or each Saturday at her church’s free community meal and essentials pantry; other times she would send thoughtful notes to those going thru hard times or putting on elaborate coffee hours that made everyone present feel special. Every Christmas she would take a week off from work, just so she could make platters of Christmas cookies that went to seemingly every parishioner in her church. She has a heart for service, and is routinely walking with folks from church as they grapple with the joys and challenges of this life. Yet when she found herself diagnosed with breast cancer, only three weeks after her mother died unexpectedly, something inside her shifted. She discovered that she couldn’t keep her own brokenness to herself. She needed to be vulnerable with the very people who she’d been there to help all these years. And you know what happened--those people showed up. Her apartment had cards on every possible surface, her freezer was overflowing with meals, while other friends would drive her to chemo and radiation.The people she served in outreach programs, the people on the margins, became some of her greatest champions and held her in prayer. To this day, they stop her on the street to ask if she’s still “cured.”
Maybe for the first time in her life, my mom experienced the full effect of the overwhelming love of her faith community. In turn, as she healed, she found herself reaching out and walking alongside other community members as they struggled. It was a privilege to watch it play out for my own mother, but I also see this kind of thing play out in our own parish all the time.
God is calling us to be a community of the broken and blessed. To surrender everything, so we might discover what it means to live and love as followers of Jesus, sharing life in community. This week, I wonder if you might consider….How has being a part of this community helped you to fully surrender yourself to God? How has it helped you to let go of your unhealthy attachments? How has this community given you strength and support on your journey? How has it helped you know God’s transformative love more deeply? How might God be asking you to give back to this community by sharing your time, talent, and treasure? Amen.
1 Mark 10:17-22
3 Mark 10:23-27
4 Mark 10:27-31
5 Presiding Bishop Curry’s description of our church’s mission.