Matthew 19:16 Then someone came to him and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" 17 And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." 18 He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 20 The young man said to him, "I have kept all these; what do I still lack?" 21 Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, 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." 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?" 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible."
Many of us who follow Jesus lift his teachings off the pages of scripture and apply then to our own lives. In fact we often want to universalize the words of Jesus as if they applied to all people everywhere for all time. Except for this passage from Matthew! Suddenly the commentaries and expositions agree that this was a word for a particular man at a particular time, and does not apply to anyone else! This is so because this is because this is one of those passages in the Bible that is easy to understand, but difficult to follow!
Jesus says: “If you wish to enter into life then keep the rules and let go of your possessions”. And suddenly this becomes difficult – because, like the man who asked Jesus the question, we have many possessions and find it hard to let go of them. In fact we find it so hard that we want to strip this passage of its meaning by spiritualizing its meaning into nothingness. Many commentaries and expositions of this passage argue that Jesus does not expect us to give our stuff away. Some commentaries will admit that perhaps some people are called to do this as a sign of their faith in God, but hasten to add that this is not for everyone. Others suggest that Jesus was exposing this man’s failure to be perfect – and then add that giving away possessions is not a sign of perfection.
Why is it so hard about hearing Jesus say that we must share our possessions? He certainly said this on more than one occasion: it was Jesus who suggested that if we have two coats we could give one away (Luke 3:11); Jesus reproved those who wanted bigger store rooms to store their possessions (Luke 12:17-21); and Jesus encouraged us to trust God instead of our possessions (Matt 6:25-34). Perhaps this year we might take the teaching of Jesus more literally, and practice generosity towards those who struggle to survive life. We who are blessed are called by Jesus to become a blessing to others.
Prayer: O Lord: soften my heart that I might be less greedy and become more generous. For the sake of those who struggle. Amen.
Second Sunday after Epiphany
8. “Come follow me”
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 59.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.