Everything that we have, that we enjoy, that makes us human and makes our lives worth living comes from God and is given into our keeping. Our homes, our children, even the breath we breathe are gifts we have to care for. Every single day – really, many times a day – we make decisions involve choices of how to use our time, expend our energy, or invest our resources. These are all stewardship decisions.
Here’s a brief story for Stewardship Season. I’ve read several different versions of it, but this one is Jack Kornfield’s:
A famous rabbi living in Europe was visited one day by a man who had traveled by ship from New York to see him. The man came to the great rabbi's dwelling, a large house on a street in a European city. A servant directed the visitor to the rabbi's room, which was in the attic. The traveler entered to find the master living in a room with a bed, a chair, and a few books. The man had expected much more.
After he and the rabbi had exchanged greetings, he asked, "Rabbi, where are your things?"
The rabbi paused, and then quietly asked in return, "Well, where are yours?"
His visitor replied, "But, Rabbi, I'm only passing through." And the master answered, "So am I, So am I."*
The lectionary, during these weeks of stewardship season, provides us with many of Jesus’ teachings relating to wealth (and Jesus in fact spoke quite frequently about wealth and the choices people made regarding it.) Today’s Gospel is one of those, Mark’s version of Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Man, a story that is also told in Matthew and Luke.
As we just heard, a man runs up to Jesus as Jesus is “setting out on a journey”, kneeling before him, asks “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus reminds him of the Commandments to be followed – he must not murder, steal, lie, cheat, or commit adultery, and must honor his father and mother.
The young man declares that he is already doing these things. Mark tells us that “Jesus loved him”, and told him this:
You lack one thing. Go, sell what you own, give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
Mark tells us the young man was shocked, and walked away, grieving, “for he had many possessions”.
Jesus then chose to reinforce teaching to the disciples – How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God, and offering one of his most dramatic and memorable metaphors, 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.
We don’t know what the rich young man wanted or expected in approaching Jesus. To my mind, he seems to have approached with humility and sincerity. It really seems like he was a good person, a good citizen, living his life in the way his faith tradition prescribed. And yet somehow he felt there was something missing, some truth he had not yet understood which would offer him eternal life.
I wonder whether the young man didn’t offer a clue to his problem in the language he used in his question to Jesus?
He looks at the life of fulfillment, of perfect righteousness and right relationship with God as something more he can “inherit” and thereby, presumably, “own”, beyond what already fills his life.
Perhaps he lives a life dominated by possessions and he is caught up in a worldview in which meaning and fulfillment come from “possession”. He doesn’t lie or cheat or steal, but perhaps his wealth has insulated him from true connection with others and with the suffering that so many in his time and place experience.
The thought of divesting himself of all of those possessions, to take up with Jesus and the disciples with just the shirt on his back is a leap that it seems he cannot make.
This is the fundamental challenge in living a life of stewardship – remembering that, like the visitor and the rabbi, we are “just passing through”, and that the blessings we receive are just that – gifts given into our care, for us to hold in open hands and make use of wisely, to make the world a better place.
The rich young man’s wealth, rather than becoming the vehicle through which, by letting go, he could move beyond himself into a fuller life, instead became his prison and his source of grief.
Jesus calls us to live lives of generosity, and promises that it will bring us joy.
Generosity is always based in the fundamental knowledge that we have enough, and we can afford to give away the extra that we don’t really need. The trick, it seems, is in recognizing how little we really need.
To live generously, we need to truly trust that God will continue to provide what we need, that if we give away our time, our energy, our money, we will still have enough left.
To live generously, we have to truly believe that other people are as important as we are, as worthy of love and of blessing.
As we enjoy these beautiful days of fall in Central Mass, savor the last gifts from the garden and make ready for winter, let us notice our blessings, and let us be thankful for them.
Let us equally notice the needs outside ourselves in the world around us, and let us see the ways in which we can make a difference.
Let us keep our hands open as we hold the gifts with which we are entrusted, and let us remember to share – ourselves, our time, and our treasure.
I invite you to pry with me that we might be freed from the fears that cause us to grasp things too tightly.
To pray that God might help us to recognize the opportunities that surround us to live life generously, and to find freedom in trusting God’s care for us.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen
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