(watch here: https://youtu.be/XtBHm7jdXpc)
17As he [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It 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.’ 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
28Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ 29Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’
The encounter between Jesus and a rich man reminds me of the one about an even stranger encounter between a lawyer and a policeman. Now generally I don’t like lawyer jokes, what with having a lawyer for a father myself, but I couldn’t pass up on this one because of its uncanny similarity to our reading for this morning. So one day there was this lawyer who had just bought a new car and he was eager to show it off to his colleagues when all of a sudden an eighteen wheeler came out of nowhere and took off the driver’s side door with him standing right there. “NOOOO!” he screamed, because he knew that no matter how much a mechanic tried to fix it, it would never be the same. Finally, a policeman came by and the lawyer ran up to him yelling. “MY BMW’S DOOR WAS JUST RUINED BY SOME FOOLISH DRIVER!” he exclaimed. “You’re a lawyer aren’t you?” asked the policeman. “Yes, I am. But what does that have to do with my car?” the lawyer asked. “HA!” the policeman replied.”You lawyers are always so materialistic. All you care about are your possessions. I bet you didn’t even notice that your left arm is missing, did you?” the cop said. The lawyer looked down at his side and shrieked: “MY ROLEX!”
Life is about priorities. We’re all given an allotted number of years to spend in this world. As we go about spending those years, God graciously and generously blesses us along the way. Some of us are blessed with good families or good educations, good jobs or good marriages, good health or good experiences, good wealth or good homes, good friends or good minds. Some of us are blessed with several of these blessings…not an “or” but an “and!” Regardless of how we’re blessed or how much each of us is blessed, I think it’s safe to say that we have all been blessed by God in one way or another. Life itself is a blessing that far too many of us seem to forget far too easily. Or we can get caught up in the hardships of life, the unfairnesses of life, that we lose sight of all the many blessings God gives us along the way. Or we become dissatisfied with our blessings as we compare them to the blessings of others. Our blessings aren’t as good as the blessings of others so we envy their blessings and diminish our blessings. Or, as is the case with the rich man in our reading for today, the blessings just aren’t enough. We become greedy with our blessings…we want more and more and more. The rich man wanted an assurance of his place in heaven. He wanted to know that the joys of heaven awaited him at the end of his life’s journey. He wanted to know the price for such an assurance as if it was something to be earned or bought. But not everything has a price. Some things in life are simply gifts. Indeed, one could argue that everything in life is a gift, be it good families or good marriages, good jobs or good health. Everything we have is a gift from our gracious and loving God. But we have to be careful clinging to such a belief. It can quickly lead to inactive participation in life. If everything in life is a gift from God, then why should I strive for anything? Why should I work at getting a good marriage or a good job or good health? They’re all gifts from God anyway so why even bother working at them? As true as that belief is, God still wants us to be active participants in our lives. God blessed us with free will to ensure that we are active participants in this thing called life. God wants us to choose good work and good marriages and good health and any other good aspect of life. Once we’ve chosen them, He wants us to work at achieving them. God wants us to use his many blessings and put them to work in creating new blessings. Which brings us back to how life is all about priorities…
You’ll notice in our reading for today that Jesus answers the rich man’s question with somewhat of an ambiguous statement. Recall the rich man asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.” Jesus never clearly explained what the one thing is that the man lacked! But the implication was that the man’s wealth was somehow keeping him from realizing the joys of eternal life. So was wealth the problem or something else? We know from Jesus’ other teachings that he had no issue with money but rather with the love of money. Jesus has an issue with what we choose to prioritize in our life, what we choose to treasure. As we hear in Luke, Jesus wisely taught us, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (12:34) Jesus doesn’t want us to focus on our blessings themselves. Jesus wants us to focus instead on how we are to be a blessing, on how we are to put God’s blessings to work in the world. Jesus wants us to focus on giving God our thanks and praise for all his many blessings. We should heed Moses’ words to “love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our might.” (Deut. 6:5) This takes prioritizing God in life–loving God, serving God, obeying God. Jesus commanded us to love each other as he loved us and continues to love us. We can’t obey God by failing to heed his commandments. No, we must love God and love each other. These are the highest priorities in life. Love God, love neighbor…nothing more, nothing less. The rich man and the lawyer didn’t love God; they loved their possessions first and foremost, a common problem among the wealthy. God knows where our hearts lie. God knows our priorities in life. If we want to know true joys in this life and the next, then we simply need to align our priorities. Jesus taught us, “but strive first for the kingdom of God his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33) Strive FIRST…make him your FIRST priority and He’ll make you his!
So perhaps the one thing the rich man lacked was a sense of priorities. After all, it’s priorities that help us realize true life, true joy. Priorities certainly help us realize when we’re missing an arm! As we continue on our journey through Lent, let us be mindful of the priorities we make in our lives. Let strive to make God and knowing God the utmost priority in life. Let us then seek to love and serve each other with equal diligence and fervor. Paul wisely advised, “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col. 3:2) Let us work at heeding his advice in the days and weeks ahead. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.