Words of Assurance
Lent is a time of reflection and repentance
Lent is a time of journeying that leads us to God.
God longs to journey with us.
God longs to forgive us and welcome us home.
Thanks be to God.
I want to take a moment to explain the journey that we will be taking this year through Lent. Rather than looking at the traditional readings each week and exploring their meaning for us today, we are going to meet some of the people that Jesus encountered on the way to the cross. Each one will be introduced to us through a monologue that takes the biblical story and imagines how their encounter with Jesus may have affected their lives. Now this is only one possible scenario and you may have your own idea of who this person was and what the story teaches us, but either way, my hope is that you will have the opportunity to think about and explore these stories in a different way.
Isaiah 55:1-2a, 6-9
Our first reading comes from the prophet Isaiah. Through Isaiah, we are reminded that we can’t buy what God offers us at no cost. Isaiah then askes the tough question, “Why spend money on what does not satisfy?”
1 Timothy 6:6-10
So how many of you have heard the quote, love of money is the source of all evil? Well, the actual quote is found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy and what it actually says is “love of money is a source of all kinds of evil.”
Our third reading this morning is Mark’s version of the story of a rich young man who comes to Jesus asking how he might have eternal life. The answer he receives is not what he expects or what he hopes for.
Let Us Pray
We are constantly amazed, Great God of sacred story, by the ways in which the old, old stories of the Bible, become fresh and new. Be with us this day as we hear again your story. Speak to us through the power of your Spirit that within the words that are shared, your voice may be heard. Amen.
Thirty years have passed since I knelt at the feet of Jesus. I was young then, full of dreams and plans. My future was wide open, as promising and fertile as the fields of Canaan. Yet I was not content. Even though I has everything a young man could desire, I was restless, searching.
But for what? I didn’t know then and to be perfectly honest I’m still not sure today. It was just a vague yearning, a feeling that there had to be more to live. I wish I could explain it better, but I can’t. My friends all assured me that there was nothing that my money couldn’t buy, but no matter what I had, or what I spent, I just couldn’t get rid of the feeling of dissatisfaction with my life.
It’s ironic that I should feel this way. I have never lacked for anything. My family has been powerful and wealthy going back generations. My own father was a shrewd businessman and grew the family fortune to record levels within his own life and when he died I inherited all of it.
As for me, I seem to have been born with incredible luck. No matter what venture I decide to tackle the money just keeps flowing in. It has gotten to the point that the businesses I do control pretty much run themselves. They don’t need me to do anything. At first I thought that was why I was feeling so restless. So I threw myself into new endeavors and no matter what I did, my wealth continued to grow, but so did my dissatisfaction.
My father had always been a very pious and devout man living by strict adherence to the Torah. That is how I was raised and I never really questioned it. I had memorized the Torah in synagogue school and I always tried to live by the letter of the law. But since that didn’t seem to be enough to satisfy me, I decided to redouble my efforts. I began going to the synagogue to pray twice a day instead of once. I spent all my time studying the Torah and I even began giving a double tithe for the poor. But no matter how devout I became, nothing seemed to help.
Then one day I heard in the market place about a great rabbi who was traveling around the country teaching, healing and gaining more and more followers. People said there was something about him that drew you to him, that he somehow touched people in the way other teachers never had. I also heard that he was going to be passing through our town, so I decided to join the crowd that was gathering on the road to greet him and hear him speak.
Because of my wealth and influence, it wasn’t hard for me to push my way through the crowd until I was able to see and hear everything. When I got there I was astonished to see that he was surrounded by children! He had knelt down and was talking to them intently as if they were real people. He was smiling and laughing with them and was asking them questions. He was also answering their questions. They seemed mesmerized by him.
Then, as if it has suddenly dawned on him that people were watching, he stood up and looked around at the crowd. “I tell you all” he said, “that unless you receive God with the innocent faith of a child, you will never enter God’s kingdom.”
That was it! Jesus had named what I was searching for. I was searching for my place in God’s kingdom! I couldn’t let this opportunity slip by. As soon as I saw the chance to do so, I approached Jesus and knelt down at his feet. “Good teacher,” I said, “what must I do to be assured of my place in God’s kingdom? What must I do to have eternal life?”
At first, he seemed upset. “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” I didn’t know how to respond. I stammered for a moment but before I could say anything he looked at me again. When he spoke this time he was very matter-of-fact, almost distant. “You know the laws and the Torah. You must obey them.”
“But I do” I blurted out. “Ever since I was a child I have followed the teachings. I pray, I read the Torah, I give to the poor. I have done everything that I can to become totally devout and righteous.”
That was the moment when I felt he really look at me for the first time … and not just at me but into the very depths of my soul. He must have been able to see the emptiness and longing there because it was at that moment that his look changed. I don’t know if I would describe that look as compassion or as pity, but I will never forget what he said next.
“If you are really serious about this, there is only one thing left for you to do. You must go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor. Then you must come and follow me.”
I was stunned. Jesus’ words pierced me like a centurion’s sword. How could I even consider such a thing? It was impossible! I had inherited my wealth from my father and one day I would pass it on to my own son. Besides I had lived my entire life in wealth and privilege. How could I possibly adjust to having nothing, to being forced to beg for my food? My wealth was my security. Without it I was vulnerable. Without my wealth, I felt naked and exposed. Besides, didn’t my wealth prove that God was happy with me? Why should I give it to someone whose poverty just proves that they are not living in a way that pleases God?
It was like there were two voices inside my head arguing with each other. Part of me longed to go with Jesus and learn more. But that other voice reminded me of what I would be giving up, everything I knew and loved. How could I give all that up, on a chance, gambling that I might find something to fill the emptiness? What if I gave everything up and it made no difference? Could I really afford to take that chance?
No! It was too much. Maybe if I had less, it wouldn’t be so difficult. Maybe if I had come from poverty and gained my wealth I could go back. But that wasn’t an option for me. No. No matter how much I wanted to take a chance, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take the risk. I turned and walked away.
Shortly after that I heard that he had been crucified as a common criminal. Although I felt bad that the world had been robbed of an amazing teacher, part of me was glad that I hadn’t been foolish enough to give up all my wealth and follow him. I might have ended up hanging on a cross right beside him!
Well, as I said before, thirty years has passed since that time. I still can’t help but wonder how different my life would be if I had chosen to follow Jesus. Would I ever have found what I was searching for?
The emptiness and longing are still there, but I’ve managed to bury them deep enough that they don’t control my life anymore. I’ve learned to live with the longing and overall my life is very good.
That is until recently. A little while ago I met a man who had made the choice I couldn’t make. He told me about all that he had learned from Jesus. He told me about the joy he experienced, even in the midst of poverty, struggle and persecution. He told me of his certainty that he had made the right choice.
Wistfully, I told him the story of how I had walked away from Jesus all those years ago. To my surprise he wasn’t shocked by my rejection and he didn’t seem to resent it. Instead he just smiled. He took my hand and looked deeply into my eyes. It was almost the same look I had seen all those years ago in Jesus’ eyes.
“It’s never too late,” he said. “It’s never too late to follow Jesus and to discover for yourself the joy that doing so can bring.”
“It’s never too late. I wonder if he’s right. I wonder ….”