It’s All About Grace
A man died and found himself standing before St. Peter and the Pearly Gates, the Book of Life was open on Peter’s desk. He looked up the new arrival’s name and assured him that his name was indeed written in the Book. Peter tells him there’s one more test, the man has to name all of his good works and score 100 points. The man begins to list his good deeds and Peter assigns them one or two points depending on the act – some even gave a negative score. When he was finished listing all of the good works he could remember his score stood at four points. He placed his head in his hands and on the point of despair said, “The only way I’m going to get in here is by the grace of God.” Without looking up Peter said, “100 points” and the gate swung open to welcome the newcomer.
This morning our attention shifts back to the call to the life of discipleship, which is the life in grace, and the requirements that such a life necessitates. We are reminded, once again, that our discipleship, in fact the whole of our relationship with the Holy One is dependent upon God’s grace. We hear it in the Collect for today:
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 234 – 235)
The whole of our life in Christ is built upon the notion that we are entirely and utterly dependent upon God’s gracious, unconditional love. It is God’s love that created us, sustains us, heals and forgives us, and ultimately receives us back into his loving and welcoming embrace when our time here on earth is done. The challenge for us is that we all too often allow other things, which is the definition of idolatry, to come between us and God’s love. Anything that we place between ourselves and God is an idol – anything can become an idol if we allow it.
This is the main point in the first part of today’s Gospel. This story is found in all three Synoptic Gospels with minor variations. A wealthy man approaches Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus gives the classic rabbinical response by telling him to keep the commandments – especially those commandments which impact the social order. When the wealthy man replies that he has kept these commandments since the days of his youth. Jesus looks at him, loves him (this is the only instance where Jesus’ love for a potential disciple is articulated), and tells him he lacks one thing – Jesus instructs him to go sell your possessions and give the money to the poor and come follow me. Jesus adds that the man will have “treasure in heaven.” Mark tells us that he went away grieving because he had great possessions.
Jesus then launches into a lesson about the difficulty to enter the Kingdom, especially if we allow our possessions to get in the way. There is nothing inherently wrong with having possessions or being wealthy. The problem comes when we allow our wealth to become our governing principle and neglect the reason for our wealth – which is using it to care for the poor, the disadvantaged, and those who have no voice in our society. This is also a polemic against those who choose to believe that one’s wealth is an outward and visible sign of their faithfulness and God’s blessing – like many of the “evangelists” who proclaim a “prosperity gospel” that teaches that if we were to give (usually to the “evangelist” in question), then God will bless us with material wealth and comfort. No where is that promised in Scripture.
Jesus reminds us that everything we have is from God, and there is awaiting us even more that we can ask or imagine. Our task is to place our trust in Jesus’ love and mercy.
This is where this morning’s Epistle fits in. The author of Hebrews tells us that our relationship with God is centered on our relationship with Jesus. The author goes on to explain that the reason we can place our trust in Jesus is because he has experienced human life. We need to remember that while Jesus is God in flesh, he is fully and completely human. Therefore, he knows and understands the way the complexity of human life.
So, on this Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we are brought back to the center of our life in Christ which is our complete dependence upon God’s love and grace to keep us and sustain us. This gives us the ability to follow faithfully.