Sunday sermon on the Gospel lesson from Matthew 19:16-26
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
There was this famous Teacher in town, there were a lot of rumors circulating about Him. Were any of them true? Was He really clairvoyant as some were saying? Was He the Messiah, as others claimed?
The young man had a desire to meet this Teacher because he had a burning question to ask Him. The young man had diligently tried to keep all the commandments. In his mind he was doing good. He was rich, he had many possessions – a clear sign of God’s favor toward him.
Yet, something kept nagging him; he felt like something was missing.
So he put on his best robe, because the social status demanded it. And just in case the rumors were true, you don’t want to appear before the Messiah in something other than your best. And he went out in search of crowd that usually followed this Teacher.
And sure enough, he found the crowd and the Teacher. ‘Why do the people always flock around the next best guru?’ thought the young man, ‘They look like little lost sheep.’
The Teacher seemed to have a presence about Him. There was a small group of men that was always by His side. ‘Those must be His chosen disciples. All rabbis have students.’ Someone from the crowd always approached Him, and He always took His time to hear them out. You could see in His face all the attention he paid to the person in front of Him. When He talked with someone, it seemed like there was no one else that mattered.
With some He simply conversed, with others He touched them and prayed over them and they left in tears, yet others He chastised and even seemed angry with them. These last ones the young man recognized to be the Pharisees. If he thought that he was keeping the commandments, the Pharisees always took it to another level. They tried to outdo each other in how many commandments they could keep. Sometimes it seemed they invented new commandments to keep.
‘But why would the Teacher be angry with them? They are the religious authorities.’ The young man started doubting whether he should approach Him with his question. But he kept advancing through the crowd and it was too late to turn around.
And he did not even notice how he made it all the way in and was now standing face to face with Him. ‘If He is the Messiah, He does not look that impressive,’ was the first thought in the young man’s mind, ‘Yet, there is something about His eyes, about His face that says He knows you and He loves you and He will listen to anything you want to say to Him.’
Without thinking, the young man said, “Good Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?”
‘Oh man, that came out a bit awkward,’ the young man thought. And the Teacher answered, “Why do you call Me good? There is only One Who is good, that is, God.”
‘Is He angry with me or is He just saying things that everyone knows? Of course God is good … if you don’t anger Him.’
“But if you want to enter into life,” the Teacher continued, “keep the commandments.”
The young man felt relieved, he thought himself to be a good Jew, having kept the commandments prescribed by the Law of Moses. So he asked, “Which commandments should I keep to enter into life?”
“Do not murder. Do not commit adultery,” the Teacher replied, “Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother. Also, love your neighbor as yourself.”
He felt even better about himself, this seemed easy. ‘Maybe this Man was telling people what they wanted to hear and that’s why He was so popular.’
“Teacher, I have kept all of them from my youth,” the young man replied, and then added, “What do I still lack?” He was hoping to get a good pat on the back. After all, he was rich and you had to respect the rich.
The Teacher gazed at him differently, He became sterner. He looked intently at the young man, and he felt like his whole life was being scrutinized right there. The young man did not feel comfortable under that gaze.
Finally, the Teacher said, “If you want to be perfect,” (‘perfect? Who said anything about being perfect?’), “go, sell your possessions, and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” (‘slow down, man. I asked You a simple question and now I have to sell everything? And worst of all, give it to the poor? They have nothing because they have found no favor with God. How is that my problem?’) “Then come, follow Me.”
The Teacher stopped speaking and looked at the young man again with those eyes that seem to see right through you.
The young man was lost, confused even. He looked down and thought, ‘Maybe I misjudged this Man. He is either a charlatan who makes people sell their possessions and give the money away to the poor … and not to Him? No, frauds usually pocket the money. Then, is He serious?’
The young man just shook his head, and without looking up at the Teacher, turned around and went away grieving. ‘I have too much. How am I to even try selling everything? That would take months, if not years.’
As he was slowly walking away from them, he kept thinking about what the Teacher told him, “If you want to be perfect.” ‘But I do not want to be perfect, I just want to make sure I have eternal life in the presence of God!’
And then he remembered from his studies that the word perfect does not necessarily mean performing everything correctly; it can also mean purpose. ‘So,’ he continued thinking, ‘to be perfect is to fulfill your purpose in life, the purpose for which you were created.’
‘Huh, that’s interesting. Then, from the Teacher’s words it follows that my purpose (or is it the purpose of all the faithful?) is to sell all I have, give it to the poor, and follow Him? If that’s the case, then all the blessings God has bestowed on me are not my privileges for good behavior, but my responsibilities? Don’t I deserve what God gave me? … If He wants me to sell everything, then maybe I do not deserve it.’
… ‘It was so strange standing before the Teacher. As He was looking at me, it felt like He was seeing me, all of me; it felt like He loved me and judged me at the same time; like He wanted me and was calling me to repentance.’ …
‘My possessions. What will I do with them in the eternal life? I can satisfy any of my desires right now…but what was it He said about eternal treasure? “Sell it, give it to the poor, and you’ll have treasure in heaven.” How? I won’t be able to take my best robe and my favorite wine with me once I die, but how can I have treasure in heaven?’
‘No, no, that can’t be right. What if something goes wrong? The religious authorities are already displeased with the methods of this Teacher. And there are rumors that they are collaborating with the Romans (with the hated Romans!) to take Him down. I can’t, I just can’t sell everything and trust Him.’
And the young man walked away sad. Strangely satisfied, however, because his burning question was answered. Yet sad because he could not do what was necessary. He knew that the purpose of our life is eternal life. And now he also knew how to achieve that purpose, how to become perfect. Yet…he had many possessions.
It's as if he were a 21st century American – he had many, way too many, way too many unnecessary possessions. If we were to approach Christ today and ask Him the same question, “Good Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?” He would answer the same, “If you want to be perfect, if you want to have purpose in your life, go, sell your possessions, and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
Who wants to be perfect? Who wants to fulfill their purpose in life?
Hard, isn’t it? Impossible even. “For people, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
As we try to fulfill the purpose of our life, let us give glory, honor, and worship to the One Who gave us this purpose and Who guides us and gives us strength to achieve it: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in Three Persons, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.