21st Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23, Year B)
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 for ever. Amen.
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Faith from the Margins to the Web contributors: MaryAnn and Ann*
*Ann is a pseudonym for someone wishing to remain anonymous. She has spent the past several years living in a tent community. MaryAnn is a parish volunteer serving at the parish where Ann comes for a weekly, community lunch.
“I love this scripture” said MaryAnn, when they had finished reading. Ann was reflective. “Wow…wow…yes, there is so much in there. First there is the person who perceives himself as bound to the law…and Jesus isn’t saying that is bad…but the Lord knows the condition of people’s hearts. And so, Jesus tells him to sell what he has and so his reaction is shock! He went away grieving, which is a pretty powerful statement. If you love anything more than God…possessions or whatever…it can become an idol in your life. I think the lesson is about surrender.”
“The thing I hadn’t noticed before is where it said, ‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him.'” said Mary Ann. “Jesus wasn’t scolding him, he was loving him and sharing out of love…that puts a whole different context on it.”
“Oh yeah, that’s good point” said Ann, “that’s like a living example of how we are to be, to love people even when we’re pointing out something hard. Not to shame: to love.”
“And, I also like that old analogy in here of the camel fitting through the eye of the needle” said Ann. “I mean, when I heard that it was sort of like Jesus was saying, ‘well, you can get through, but your stuff can’t!”
Both women laughed at the truth of that interpretation.
“The older I get” said Mary Ann, “I’ve had to realize that it’s all about God’s grace. I try so hard to follow all the rules, but sometimes that becomes its own problem, like we’re trying to earn it.”
“Yeah, we can get to a point where we think we have to earn God’s love” said Ann, “and that is never how God is.”
Mary Ann continued that thought, “It makes me realize that it comes with our lives, that we think we have to earn people’s love and so we think we have to earn God’s love, too.”
“Right” agreed Ann, “it isn’t performance oriented. That’s where you have to keep reminding yourself that God is always there. There is no reason to doubt it, or need to earn it. But it can be hard to accept that.”
Ann and MaryAnn shared stories of their families, and people in their lives who may not feel that love was always freely available. As they continued to discuss this scripture, their conversation turned to the idea of God as good.
“I think about that idea of God as Good, the only true Good” said Ann. “Because we live in this world, it’s sometimes hard to separate God, the good, from all the not good things that happen in our lives. Either you can freak out when stuff happens, or you can press in and trust God. I’ve had to learn not to analyze everything, as if I can figure it all out. Sometimes I have to say, “I can’t make sense of it right now, but God’s got me. I’m God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. I’m held in God’s hand, and I will just accept that today.”
Ann shared a story from her life, “The other day, I was struggling a lot about what I didn’t have. But I had this huge box of socks and I looked at it and thought, ‘I know I don’t need all of these socks and those of us who are homeless always need socks. Today, I’m going to bless people with these socks.’ So, I washed them out and hung them to dry. Then later that day, I went around to people I knew and just blessed them with a freshly washed pair of socks. It changed my whole day, and I knew that even in that action I was experiencing God. I mean, I don’t wake up every day and think, ‘oh, God’s gonna bless me today!’ but I’ve learned that this happens, that I can truly live in that love and the minutes and the days begin to take on meaning, to make sense, to remind me that I am truly living in the love of God.”
“I love that” said MaryAnn, “It just reminds me how beautiful it can be when we trust. It’s hard because I’m such a planner.”
“Me, too!” said Ann, “and that is what makes me so tempted to try to figure it all out. But I am trying to live, to fully experience the love, to totally trust God.”
“I find your story so beautiful” said MaryAnn, “because it flies against what people think: there are people who give, they are people who receive. But, actually, we all can give.”
Ann thought about his, “I mean, well here’s another thing: I love to cook. It’s one of my gifts. Now, I’m someone who tents and that means I’m technically homeless. But, I have a stove and things I’ve collected. People know that they can bring me what they have and I will cook it up into something good and then we get a chance to cook, and eat, and break bread together. Someone might have a guitar and we would sing. People look out for one another and in that sharing, we feel this love of God. It’s really profound, to not think about what we don’t have but to truly experience the beauty of what we DO have. God has been so gracious to me, still is gracious to me. We always have so much to give, more than we sometimes realize.”
The conversation between Ann and MaryAnn continued, sharing their experiences of God’s love through unexpected times and in unexpected ways in the situations of their lives. At times, as I listened to their voices recording, I couldn’t even tell who was speaking. There was a beauty in their rich gift of sharing stories, laughter, and noting the presence of God in their lives. This gift that we receive in story-sharing is, I whole-heartedly believe, an experience of divine love. Our experience of God isn’t about our social location, but instead about our divine location with each other and hearing each other in full, real and non-judgmental ways and co-resident in divine love and grace. What is real comes into clarity; what is superficial falls away. We pass through the seemingly impossible eye of the needle of human difference, finding instead our connection in divine relationship. With God, truly all things are possible through the love which binds us all.