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Endures for ever

How much do you need to give up? The rich young man in Mark’s gospel (see chapter 10) is asked to give up everything he owns. Sell all he possesses, give it to the poor and then follow Jesus. He fails to do this, and one wonders whether this was his only chance, or whether there were further opportunities later that he may have taken. He wanted to do this; he went away sad, because he couldn’t. But, for whatever reason, he cannot sell all he possesses. It’s a big ask; Jesus wants him to give up all his security, all his status, probably all his friends and become part of a wandering band of itinerant disciples, many of whom were lowly fisherman. He couldn’t do it: whether he was scared, or too proud, or too much part of his own society, I do not know. He genuinely wanted to inherit eternal life, but couldn’t fulfil its’ demands. He may have had a sincere faith, but he put his wealth before God.


Thankfully, most of us are not expected to give up that much; whether Jesus would demand it of us if he were physically present, as he was to the young man, is another matter. For, of course, on one level that is exactly what he asks of each one of us. Not necessarily to literally give up all we own, and become homeless. But to put God before all that; before all our possessions, all our security, all our status, all our friends. If we are to truly follow Jesus, he must come first, before all else. The problem is that it is so easy to think we have done this – as the young man may well have thought – while not actually doing it, while actually prioritising other things, whether consciously (because it makes sense to ensure we have what we need, or whatever justification we give) or unconsciously (because we are truly unaware that God is not our priority).


It is hard for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus comments after the young man has gone. How much time do we spend with this passage? How often do we ponder its message? Or do we pass over it, for more comfortable passages, secure that we are not like the rich young man, and would sell all if asked …. Except we know we will not be asked, and therefore can hide from the answer. What really is our priority? Where is our treasure? We can be thankful that all things are possible for God, for I suspect most of us may be more attached to our possessions than we are prepared to admit; if not the actual possession, then the safety or the comfort that comes from it.


In a sense, there is nothing wrong with that. I do not think that Jesus is calling Christians to give up all they own and become itinerant bands of … what? It wouldn’t really work in today’s society. There is nothing wrong with ensuring we look after ourselves, our health, that we can eat properly and dress warmly. Moreover, I suspect many Christians give what they can to help others to do the same. There is nothing helpful about feeling guilty because you have enough to eat. But … there is always a but! There is still the question of ‘what is our priority?’ Riches can blunt the sensitivity to what we truly treasure. Most people reading this blog may not be rich, in today’s sense; or even in terms of the rich young man. Nevertheless, many of us may well have a standard of living that others would describe as rich. The question still remains: what is your priority?


It is a common practice to give up something during Lent; some people take something extra on. The point is not to load ourselves with extra, or to give up something that will make us feel better, but to allow ourselves this time for preparing for Holy Week and Easter; to allow our practices in Lent to draw us closer to God. To give something up, or take something on, can be helpful, if it shows us what we may depending on that is not God; if it draws us out of our comfort zones, and shows us more of who God truly is; if it helps us to allow Jesus further into our lives and develop our faith. Moreover, there is a sense in which a true keeping of Lent is the only way to truly celebrate Easter; that the preparation we make leads us towards a true impact of Easter joy, and the wonder of the resurrection, of a God who can do the impossible, who is not dead and therefore is still present with us.


It may be obvious to state that very few of us will have got to the point of making God our priority in every way, without failing somewhere. We are all sinners, and that is why we continually come before God in repentance; it is why we keep Lent every year, not just once. For God all things are possible, and we just have to trust that is true also for us. That God will draw us closer and closer, so that we become ever nearer to making God our true priority. What is also true is that possessions – whatever they are, and however much we own – can blunt us in our faith; can come between us and God. That may have been what happened to the rich young man: he was used to being rich, and the status it gave him; he didn’t realise, until he asked that question of Jesus, how much it was coming between him and God, how much his entire faith was stunted due to his wealth. That may be why it is impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God: it is easy to depend on the riches, rather than on God; to depend on what we possess, or what we earn, rather than God. We do not need to depend on God, for we have other things to depend upon …. Yet, at the same time, we do need, even more, to depend on God. For riches may disappear, and possessions are transitory, but the love of God will endure for ever. The love of God is the only thing that will endure for ever. What would you rather depend upon? 

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