The Lord remained silent before Pilate and Herod; He made no attempt to justify Himself. You must imitate His holy and wise silence when you see that your enemies accuse you, with every intention of certain conviction; they accuse only with the purpose of hiding their own evil intention under the guise of judgement. — St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Cup of Christ
What a terribly odd sentence: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” I was under the impression that no one “did” anything to “inherit.” One either “is” or one “is not” an heir. At the outside of things, I guess one could marry into money and then hope it would come ones way but that would not have been a consideration in Jesus’ time.
And what am I to make of the answers Jesus gives. In answer to the odd first question: “how can I inherit eternal life,” Jesus answers with a quick summary of all the commandments but then points out that even the keeping of those very commandments is not enough. How Lutheran of Jesus! He lacks “one thing,” this man: surrendering entirely to Jesus. Is this a hidden critique of the Pharisees who, like the man, keep the commandments flawlessly, at least in letter? We have learned last week that there is letter and spirit. That which God intended and that what has become of it through the ministrations of very hard hearts.
And what am I to make of the idea that: “Jesus loved him?” It seems to mean that Jesus actually wants this one to follow him. He asks him to do just that in the very words he used for the other disciples. “Follow me.” This man walks away. What becomes of him? Is he the one who hides in the garden watching the arrest from a distance only to then finally leave all behind including his clothes when discovered, as if to say: “You will leave it all behind one way or another, the only question is how you will leave it?” I pray that he is that, because the empty tomb has the man dressed in white and proclaiming the resurrection. Might he have come to his senses or better might he have come to God’s senses? I pray earnestly I am right here. If he can come to sense, maybe I can too . . .
Last Sunday in the pulpit I said: “God the Holy Spirit must break hearts.” Yes, it is true. Hard hearts must be broken open because only hearts that can be moved to pity and love can embrace children, only they can take the lowest places for the sake of others, only they can stand being the least, even the child, in the kingdom. Hard hearts cannot and will not do that. Hard hearts strive to be last if it means they get to be first and doing that will they not be last? Peter’s great speech about how humble he has become after giving up everything is the humility that accidentally caught sight of itself in the mirror and now is ever so impressed with itself. Ironically, everything he said is probably true given the cost associated with conversion in the 1st century. But, like the man weighed down by greed for wealth instead of freed by it to be a benevolent heart, Peter and the disciples are weighted down by pride of following Jesus instead of being freed by that discipleship to embrace the child. Yes, I am still stuck on that child thing. It is in our stories a bit too frequently not to be important.
But really now: The camel attempts the impossible in our story: It tries to crawl through the eye of a needle. Don’t bore me with gates that supposedly were named “eye of the needle.” No archeologist has found one. The fact that we are looking speaks volumes. Don’t bore me with misspellings that make the “camel” a “rope.” No, the parable was to be one of impossibility. Even Jesus says so: “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
So, to collect the pieces: You cannot behave your way into the Kingdom of God by obeying the commandments, you also can’t Jesus-follow yourself into the Kingdom, you cannot humble yourself into the kingdom, you can only lose everything, but you are called to do all those things.
Did you ask to be born? Did you fill out a questionnaire asking you about the parents you would like to end up with? Do you have any recollection whatsoever that asked your opinion or preferences about your birth? What then do you make of the idea that one can behave oneself into the kingdom of God. Think about it: The very event that makes it possible for you to read and contemplate what I say here was entirely beyond you and your control, it was even beyond your consciousness.
There is also a day coming over which you have no veto — may the Lord keep it away from us all for a while yet and when it comes, bring it in mercy, even though persecutions have been promised.
Why do we pretend that in a life between two realities over which we have no control we have all the control in the world? Why do we pretend standing beyond the first that at the next singularity we will have a say so on what happens next? If you cannot receive the Kingdom of God like a child, how then do you propose to receive it? Yet, if indeed a child, how will you receive the invitation: “Follow me?”