October 13, 2012

Jesus Looked at Him, and Loved Him

Filed under: Financial Commitment,Lectionary,Legacy,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:14 pm

If “the purpose of religion is to comfort the uncomfortable and discomfort the overly-comfortable,”[i] then Jesus really nailed it this time, didn’t he!

This young man is clearly one of the overly-comfortable. His wealth provides him with material comfort, true, but also, we can assume, with the intangible comforts of status, influence, access to power, and the regard of others.

This in turn allows him the comfort of an ordered life. He knows the rules. He understands his place in the society and in the temple.

But if life is so nicely ordered, what compels him to approach to Jesus?

It is possible that this young man was so accustomed to a life of clarity and structure that he was simply double-checking that he had things in order, that he was on track for eternal life.

Murder? Nope, haven’t murdered.

Adultery? Nope, fine there.

Stealing? False witness? Fraud? Most certainly not!

Honor your father and mother? Absolutely!

Anything else? I’m good to go? Just wanted to be sure I’m not missing anything.

But somehow I don’t think that’s it.

There is a distinct intentionality in the way he runs up to Jesus and kneels at his feet. This man doesn’t just happen to be in town running errands when he notices Jesus and says, “Hey, can I get your opinion on something?”

No. This is a story of yearning. And as the conversation unfolds we realize that it is also a story of awakening.

The rich young man can’t help but suspect that there’s something more to this faith thing than just following a checklist of commandments. But he doesn’t know what that “something more” might be. So he asks.

And how does Jesus respond?

He looks at him.

And loves him.

Jesus does not react to the young man’s wealth, or his position, or his piety as a Jew. Jesus looks deep into his being.

Jesus sees immediately that the thing standing between this young man and a deeper experience of God’s grace and generosity is his attachment to his wealth—not the wealth itself, but his attachment to that wealth.

Adam Kligfeld, an Orthodox Rabbi in Los Angeles, puts it this way:

Life is not about amassing wealth but about amassing meaning, and things and objects aren’t worth nearly what we think they are. And at the same time, we’re supposed to enjoy all the bounty that God has given us. That includes enjoying some of the wonderful things about the modern world, while at the same time putting proper value on them. The key is not to take it too far in either direction.[ii]

That is precisely what moves Jesus to compassion—this man has taken it too far in amassing wealth. Jesus challenges him to amass meaning. Jesus wants the young man to discover that, to put proper value on things, he will have to recalibrate his understanding of God’s grace, his sense of generosity and abundance.

I suspect that most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have been in this young man’s shoes. At one time or another, various aspects of our lives have gotten in the way of our relationship with Jesus. We have faced the choice of recalibrating or parting ways.

The good news is that ours is not a checklist faith. Our faith is rooted in baptism; our lives are shaped by the vows of a living covenant, not by static, one-time promises.

Notice that the very first covenant that we make in baptism is to be in communion with one another. We commit to continue in the fellowship, and in the breaking of the bread because we need to be at this table. We need to challenge one another’s comfort zones. We need to take strength and reassurance from one another as we wrestle with our own understandings of grace, and generosity, and abundance.

The second vow of our covenant is to persevere. We just name it up front that we’re not going to get this right. We are going to fall short. We do not go away grieving, however, unwilling to face the challenge and grace of growing more deeply into Christ. We humbly confess both the things we have done and the things we have left undone, trusting that, with God’s help, we will do better next time.

It is only from this foundation that we move into that place from which our very energy ripples outward to proclaim the Good News, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice and peace. It is only then that we genuinely become living stewards of an ever-living Gospel.

Each of us is in a different place on this stewardship journey. You may be growing into proportional giving, or into the tithe. You may be considering an offering from your abundance that is beyond the tithe. You may be hesitant at the thought of committing to a pledge when you don’t know what the year ahead has in store. Perhaps you are attending to the care of yourself and your loved ones at the end of life.

Wherever you are on the steward’s path, I ask you to consider this:

The parish budget is not just a financial outline of what the vestry expects to take in and how they predict they will spend it. It is a living document of how your congregation will act on a shared commitment to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in all of Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The parish budget sends a clear message: This is who we are; this is the ministry we share, by faith, with thanksgiving.

In these weeks many of us are being invited to pledge a portion of our abundance to the mission and ministry of our congregations. Such an invitation is nothing less than an opportunity for you to allow Jesus to look at you, and to love you.

So do yourself a favor: Don’t just put down last year’s number, or a pick an amount that feels affordable, or play it safe until you see what transpires. Engage in prayerful discernment. Reflect deeply on your own understanding of God’s grace, on God’s generosity and abundance, and on your own perceptions of what things are really worth.

And then hold fast to your confession. Approach the throne of grace with boldness. And discover the joy and gladness that comes from bringing the first fruits of your life and labor to the Lord.


[ii] Ibid.


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