Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to (the) poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions…It is easier for a camel to pass through (the) eye of (a) needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
Ouch… from the moment we first heard those words, we have been looking for a loophole. I mean, seriously, is Jesus telling us to give away everything and follow him. It has to be a hyperbole, right? Oh my gosh… what if it is literal? What if wealth really is an obstacle to eternal life? What if God is truly calling us to give up everything we own? What if Mother Teresa and St. Francis had it right all along? Where does that leave the rest of us? It leaves us shuffling and looking for a loophole – like these:
- The linguistic shuffle: did you know that the word for camel and rope are just one letter difference. Maybe the scribe messed up and the verse was supposed to be its’ easier for a rope to pass thru a needle’s eye. So… if you had a small rope and large needle… just saying.
- The water-it-down shuffle: It is not really about wealth it is about priorities. After all, without rich Christians we don’t pay the staff and keep the lights on. We just need to remind folks about priorities. No me, mind you… the rich people… their priorities…
- The historical shuffle: the passage refers to the night gate in the east Jerusalem wall. It was really small and so only if you unloaded the camel down to a smaller load could it fit through the gate. You just had to downsize or right size. Ok, fine… there is no evidence the gate ever existed… but I like this bit of historical fiction.
And lastly there is….
- Don’t shuffle. Just ignore the whole thing because I’m not rich. At least, not as rich as those people over there.
You know what the problem with all of this loophole hunting? It makes us miss the most important line in the whole passage: Jesus, looking at him, loved him.
Stop and ask yourself “where else is the New Testament does it say Jesus loved someone?” Does the Bible ever say Jesus loved Mary, his mother? Actually, it doesn’t. We don’t doubt Jesus did, but the fact remains, Scripture does not record the words. There is the part of the Gospel according to John in which one disciple is described as the “one Jesus loved.” But then, it is not Jesus saying it. It is people drawing a conclusion about it all. In this passage, the words are clear and powerful: Jesus, looking at him, loved him.
Here is a man who comes before Jesus and kneels down, and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He understands who Jesus is. And so he seeks out Jesus with his question about his eternal inheritance because he knows that whatever his appearance on the outside, whatever his faithful and pious life, he’s still missing something, something important, something that matters, something that’s a matter of life and death. The man instinctively knows this but is unable to put his finger on it.
Jesus gives him a hint by asking about some of the commandments. I imagine the man, kneeling before Jesus, checking off the list: don’t kill – got it; don’t steal – I’m good; don’t bear false witness – check. Then there is this pause, a moment of quiet where Jesus just waits. The man looks to Jesus for more because he knows there is still something missing… and Jesus waits.
Did you notice, Jesus does not ask about the greatest commandment. When Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment, the response is quick and sure: love God with whole heart and being – and love your neighbor as yourself. There in the pause, in the silence, with nothing more coming from the man, Jesus, looking at him, loved him. Jesus invites him into a personal, loving, abiding relationship that is the key to the eternal inheritance. Jesus is saying to the man, this is the one thing missing – and here’s the thing blocking your way: your wealth. Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself – but your energy is centered on your wealth. Give it up so you can love. Return the love freely given. Let go of what holds you back from loving.
And in the moment that followed, I imagine the man was stunned. Maybe he went through all the loopholes so he could justify himself and his riches. Realizing he wasn’t willing to give them up, he slowly rose to his feet, turned, and went away sad.
Here we are today. What is the one thing we are lacking? What is the one thing that keeps you from loving God, from loving deeply and unabashedly? Is it wealth? Is it time? Is it the need to be in control? Is it a history of disappointment? Is it a story of a broken heart? What is the one thing we are lacking that keeps us from love and from love’s demands?
Today, we too kneel before Jesus in the Eucharist. We ask, “Lord, what must we do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds, “OK, let’s review yesterday. I am sure you did many things. But I only have two questions for you. How did you love me? How did you love those whom I love?”
Maybe that will be our moment parallel to the man in the Gospel. The great silence, as we consider our possible answers. If we can answer those two questions, then our yesterday if fine – we need not bother with the loophole searching – just work on today by continuing to love. If the question give us pause – don’t bother with loophole searching – but rejoice because Jesus is looking at you, loving you. Today is a new day. Return the love. This is what we must do to inherit eternal life.
Loopholes or love – its your choice.