Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
I officiated at a memorial service this week for Mark McKay who spent his life in service to others and convinced other people to join him in the work. The mayor of Kent spoke about his contributions to the common good of his city through the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary International chapter that he co-founded. A number of community leaders, business men and women and a priest spoke in honor of his dedication to making his world a better place. One of the men remembered the day the Mark called him to say that he was going to inoculate children against polio in Ethiopia and Mark wanted him to come along. The man made some excuse, but Mark said, “Listen, you’re between jobs. You’re not doing anything. I’m taking my vacation to do this. Come with me!” And he did. And it was a transformative experience. The other theme of the sharing was Mark’s generosity. He was an extraordinarily generous man. He served his church in just about every capacity of leadership. When we die, we cannot take anything with us; we leave everything behind. Mark chose to leave a legacy of generosity and service.
In the gospel this morning we meet a man who has the same potential. He is wealthy and he is an observant Jew. He simply wants to secure eternal life for himself. So he comes to Jesus with his question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The word “inherit” is important. It is a clue that this man most probably inherited his wealth. Jesus reminds him to keep the laws of God. The man has kept the law, but even he feels that something is missing. Jesus looks at him with love—not with judgment, but with love—and tells him there is one thing more. If he wants to live an abundant life, he should sell his possessions and invest in abundant life for the poor. The man is shocked by Jesus’ words, and he turns and walks away grieving because he has many possessions. He is caught between the Jewish belief that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing for leading a righteous life and God’s requirement for economic justice in both the law and the prophets. That’s the world we live in too.
Note that Jesus does not debate him, compromise, or run after him. Jesus tells the man the truth about his life and lets him choose his course of action. But the exchange was confusing to the disciples, who were also caught between the belief in wealth as God’s blessing and God’s requirement for economic justice. If it’s not wealth and it’s not eternal life, what is the reward for righteous living or following Jesus?
So let’s start with what we can’t earn no matter how hard we try. Eternal life has already begun for all of us. It’s not something that we have to earn. It’s not something that we can earn. It is God’s gift to us, given in love. Eternal life is impossible for us to earn, because it is already ours. However, we can choose how we live in this life. We can do things our way and create a world of haves and have nots, of those who are in and those who are out, of greed, acquisition, anger, resentment, fear, and conflict. Or we can choose to live under God’s rule and invest our time and what we can earn, our financial resources, in equity, freedom, peace, and joy. You’ve seen the bumper stickers: If you want peace, work for justice. Live simply so that others may simply live. This is not rocket science. We love our stuff and we save stuff because we might need it in the future. We all have garages full of stuff we may need someday, right? But because we love our stuff, and because we feel that it is a blessing that we have earned by being righteous, we too often look at the state of the world and walk away grieving.
But Jesus tells us that if we invest our lives in the Kingdom of God, in generosity and service to others, we will have more than we can imagine. Our community will grow around us with neighbors and strangers who have become like family. We don’t need to be afraid of letting go of our possessions because God will provide for us—and we will provide for each other. The happiest people I know are the most generous. They invest in the well-being of others. I think changing our belief about financial security and generosity, from scarcity to abundance, is the part that is like a camel going through the eye of a needle. We are so afraid of scarcity that we cling to our stuff. If we can let go of that fear and get to the other side, the whole world changes and we are free. And we can begin to set the world free from poverty, disease, violence, and please God, even war. Because with God, all things are possible.