I saw a cartoon recently which had two camels, one is saying to the other ”Think they’re making the eyes of needles larger these days”.
All three of our readings today have a concern for justice. The prophet Amos v14 “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts will be with you. Hate evil and do good and establish justice in the gate. Earlier it talks about how “the people” hate those who reprove those doing evil and abhor those who speak the truth. People don’t like it being pointed out that the rich make their money from cheating the poor in various ways. We in the west, even the poorest of us have a standard of living that is supported by our economy and the trade which keeps for example, the growers in poorer countries receiving in the main the minimum for their crops.
We all want good deals when we shop and have an eye for a bargain. Supermarkets know they have to have quality produce at competitive prices. More of us are responding and buying “fair trade” goods when possible. We know we live in a privileged part of the world where we enjoy so many blessings that so often we take for granted.
Our systems may not be perfect but we do get health care when we are sick, support through social services, our children have free education, and we have a benefit and pension system. We have safe drinking water and a sanitation system and rubbish collection. Most of the people in our world don’t have a water supply which is safe and clean and many have to walk for miles to collect water which is not fit for animal let alone human consumption. How do we the rich, share what we have with those in need? How do we influence our government to keep its promises, when it comes to keeping to its overseas commitments ? How do we respond to the requests of the various organisations we know seeking our support for those in need? How do we respond in ways which help people to become self sufficient.? Give someone a fish and you will feed them for a day. Give them a fishing rod and you will enable them to feed not only themselves but their family in an ongoing way.
Our epistle passage talks about how nothing is hidden from God and it is to God that we must render an account of our lives. How we have shared his gifts and blessings to us. God sees everything, our thoughts and our intentions. God’s word is living and active, sharper than a two edged sword and it gets to the heart of the matter. In Jesus we have someone, who understands what it is like to be a human being, who understands our weaknesses, but at the same time knows the truth of them. We might make excuses to others which will seem reasonable and acceptable but God knows the truth. God knows when we are pushing ourselves and when we are taking the easy option. God, I believe does not always want us to be pushing ourselves, we need to discern when that is the right course and times when it isn’t.
Verse 16 is consoling. “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”. We need God’s mercy and forgiveness as we are always failing to live up to living out the Gospel. The important thing is to go on trying, not to get so discouraged that we give up. Some of you may remember the Frank Sinatra’s “Rubber tree plant song” which you can take as “with God’s grace all things are possible. God wants us to come to him as someone who understands all the “ins and outs” of our lives, as someone we can completely trust. God will give us the help the grace we need to face any situation. It might not be in the way we imagine but the grace will be there if we ask for it and have the eyes of our heart open to see it.
When we come to the Gospel, here was a young man who had everything. He was rich, he had power, was God fearing and led a blameless life according to the law. Even so he was aware of something missing in his life and so comes to Jesus, whom he senses can help him. He runs up to him and kneels before him and asks “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life”? As they get into a dialogue about the commandments, Jesus expresses the sub-text of one, which is not normally spelt out, “You shall not defraud”. There are many and various ways in which we can defraud people and we can see it operating in many walks of life, from employment, the service industries as well as business.
The man replies that he has kept all the commandments since his youth. Jesus looks at him and loves him. He zeros in on “the word that is the two edge sword”, not to hurt but to challenge. “You lack one thing, go sell what you own, give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.“ When he heard this he was shocked and went away grieving for he had many possessions.”
This was a man who was not free. Yes he had kept the letter of the commandments and the law, but had missed that it was meant to lead to a life of the fullness in the spirit of the commandments. Being filled with and expressing the love of God through our lives is more than the letter of the law. His possessions possessed him. He was shocked. He wasn’t expecting that answer and later the Apostles were dumfounded when Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
They asked who then can be saved? This was very counter-cultural. Being rich, and blessed with many possessions was regarded as a sign of God’s blessing and it carried with it responsibilities. There is a brand of Christianity which still believes that if you become a True Christian, God will bless you and your family with everything you need to lead a comfortable life. Should you loose your job or encounter illness then you must have done something wrong, because they believe, being rich is a sign of God’s acceptance of you and blessing. What does that say about how they think God sees people who are by their standards desperately poor, or people who are sick
Jesus saw the heart of the man, his spirit and he loved him. The man had come truly seeking eternal life, but perhaps expecting some moderately easy thing to do and here is Jesus asking him to embrace a whole new life and to be freed from the old. He went away grieving. Jesus presents him with a choice and he opts for the old familiar ways. Jesus invites us into new life to perhaps risk reaching out for justice in our world.
Try and find a time of quiet for a short time today and imagine being the one coming to Jesus. Imagine him looking at you and loving you. What might he say to you about the one thing missing/lacking in your following of him today? What is he asking of you right now at this point in your life? Pray that he will give you the grace to see what you need.
One final thought: Jesus says that it is difficult and hard for the rich to enter the kingdom, but not impossible. Someone remarked that while the first may be last, they are not tossed out of the line. God’s compassion embraces all, even the rich so there is hope for us all.
May God give us his grace to follow him. Amen.