He was rich; he owned much land and money, had a luxurious house, and many servants. He wasn’t going to sell it all and follow Jesus. (Yes, I know this sounds like last week’s blog…). Pondering more on the story of the rich young ruler, I wondered if he hadn’t been able to sell all he owned simply because he owned it. It was his. I wonder whether, if he had seen his many possessions as God’s, rather than his, he would have been more willing to consider selling it all. Because he doesn’t seem to have considered it, even as a possibility. All those riches … whether inherited or earned, they were his. Compare to Zacchaeus, who after an encounter with Jesus gave away half he owned to the poor, and repaid anyone he had cheated four times. But Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a sinner. The rich young ruler was a righteous person, one of the elite. Did that make a difference?
This is less about possessions, and what we do or do not own, as about how we see it, and ourselves. Do we see all we own, all we do, all we are, our very selves as ours, belonging to us, or do we see them as God’s? If we’ve given our lives to God, is it us who has given them – therefore we can give ourselves a metaphorical pat on the back? For we have taken what is our own, and given it to God. What if that’s not how it is? What if we have merely taken what is God’s and given it back? That I have nothing that is MINE, but only that which is God’s? What if all that we are, do and be is already God’s, and offering our very selves to God is merely a realisation of that fact? Is sin a turning away from that acceptance to a seeing of the world where I, and much that is around me, is mine – and therefore I can give it to God, or not, as I will? is this not where the world has gone wrong? Where wars, and arguments, and murder, and anger come from? That this is mine, or yours, and I will hold what is mine, or take from what is yours – possibly because somewhere it is justified as mine?
Of course, there is a lot of suffering in the world that this does not cover, but this is not about suffering. It is about how we see the world, and how we view it. Is it ours, or God’s? Do we see God as a creator, who leaves it to us to run things, or do we see God as intimately involved in creation, not a distant creator, aeons ago, but as a continuing Creator, constantly involved? Do we see, and honour, the world, and each other, as God’s, or are we staking out part of it as mine? Are your possessions yours – or God’s? Are you yours – or God’s? Do you give to God out of what is your own – or do you give out of what is God’s? Surely if I, and all around me, are God’s, then that should revolutionise the way we see not only ourselves, but those around us; not only that patch of the earth that we may ‘own’, but all the other patches as well; not only our own country, but all other nationalities. We should be approaching it all with humility, with an honouring – that this is not mine, I do not possess it, but it is in fact God’s. God, whom we claim to worship, to follow, to honour.
I have long been convinced that we can only come to God with empty hands. It would be so easy to say ‘Look, Lord, at all I have done for you’, or ‘Sorry, Lord, I haven’t done enough for you’; to come to God full of all we have given up, or done, or otherwise put in place; to come to God saying ‘look, here I am’. But I don’t think it works that way: we are only looking at ourselves. We can only come to God, empty, saying ‘look, here You are’. There may be a continual process of emptying, certainly while we are still alive, but it is a process that prepares us for that eventual encounter with our Lord, when we will only be able to stand and worship, empty of all but God. Treasure in heaven? Yes, of course, but even that is God’s – and we can leave it to our Lord to prepare that room for us.