David A. Davis
April 14, 2019
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Jesus tried to tell them. He tried to explain it just to them, just for them. He pulled them aside and tried to help them understand, tried to get them to see. He wanted them to “get it.” But they didn’t. They couldn’t. They didn’t get it. That conversation. That encounter. His response to yet another question along the way. His answer to the certain ruler about inheriting eternal life. The one thing lacking. The sell what you have and give to the poor part. The comment about how hard it is for those who have wealth, those who have means, those who have property, those who have….to enter the kingdom of God. The camel and the eye of the needle thing.
Those who heard all of that ask another question of Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” How can anybody be saved? How can we be saved? “Jesus replies, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” Peter, Peter, Peter. Peter is more to the point. Peter gets more personal. Peter names it. Peter puts it out there. Peter doesn’t hold back. “Wo, wo, wo,wo….Look, we left our homes and followed you.” He is right, of course. According to Luke, Jesus first met the fisherman when he asked to use their boats for something of a pulpit, teaching the crowds pressing in around him right at the shore. When he finished he told them to go out to deeper water and put in their nets. They hesitated because they had been out all night long and caught nothing. But they did as Jesus suggested and brought in such a haul that both boats started to sink and the fisherman were amazed and fell at Jesus’ feet. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus said, “from now on you will be catching people.” They came to shore, brought in their boats and probably the best catch of fish the fishermen ever had, and as Luke puts it, “They left everything, and followed him.”
So yes, Peter is correct in what he says to Jesus. “We have left our homes and followed you.” So, seriously, if that ruler cannot be saved, how can anyone, how can any of us, be saved? What about us, Jesus?” “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life.” It sounds almost like Jesus is saying “no, no, no, Peter, it’s all good. I got this.”
He doesn’t stop there, either. Jesus takes the twelve aside, and he says to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” And the twelve understand nothing of it. Jesus tries to get to them to see that hard conversation with the rich ruler in light of where they are going, in light of where he is going. It’s not the first time in Luke he has told them about his suffering and death. It’s the fourth time. It can’t be a coincidence that Luke pairs this now repeated and fraught reference to going up to Jerusalem with the certain ruler who was very sad when Jesus told him to sell all that he had and distribute the money to the poor. Yes, Jesus is trying to get the twelve to finally understand what is really going to happen when they get up there. But he is also trying to help them understand that conversation about inheriting eternal life and being saved. And it is as impossible for them to grasp it as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
We should have cancelled the palms this year. A palm-less Palm Sunday. That would have gone over well. But we’ve been traveling all this way from Galilee to Jerusalem with Jesus in Luke. We read the Triumphal Entry earlier from Luke. In Luke, there are no palms. It’s easy to miss because the reader assumes the palms; fills in the palms, There is a procession. Jesus is riding on a colt. But there is no waving of palm branches. There is no lining the pathway with palm branches. The disciples, the followers of Jesus, those with him still along the Way, they toss some of their cloaks on the colt for him to sit. They keep spreading their cloaks on the path. No palm branches in Luke. No “hosanna” either in Luke. The multitude of the disciples praise God joyfully with loud voices. Loud enough that the Pharisees tell Jesus to tell them to stop. “If these were silent, the stones would shout out,” Jesus said. The stones would shout. But no “hosanna”. No shout of “Lord save” which is what “Hosanna” means. No, in Luke “save us” comes not as a shout. It comes as a question. “Lord, then who can be saved?”
When that faithful, devout, commandment keeping man heard Jesus tell him to sell everything and give it to the poor so that he could have treasure in heaven, the man “became sad…. for he was very rich.” Sad. He was sad. It sounds almost strange. Sad. Sad sounds more like a reaction to a play date being canceled. Sad. Sad sounds more like the last day of a great vacation. Sad. Sad. The word doesn’t come up all that often in the New Testament. Sad. When Luke tells of the Risen Jesus approaching the two men along the Emmaus Road, when Jesus asked them what they had been talking about along the way, Luke writes that that “they stood still, looking sad.” But that’s a different word in Greek. They had a gloomy look on their face. The word here for the rich ruler indicates he was deeply grieved, stricken with grief, he was overcome with grief. Sad doesn’t really begin to describe it. Both Matthew and Mark use the word to describe how Jesus was feeling in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was deeply grieved. Jesus told the man to get rid of all his riches and even at the thought of it, he was as distraught as if a loved one had died. He wasn’t just sad. He was overwhelmed with sorrow. He was heart-broken. The man felt like his best friend just died.
Jesus takes the twelve aside to juxtapose the rich ruler’s grief with Jesus’ own being handed over, mocked, insulted, spat upon, flogged and killed. The rich ruler’s broken heart at even the thought of losing anything and the imminent reality of Jesus giving absolutely everything. Everyone’s fear that the things of this world would be taken way and the horrible truth that this is the world that would take Jesus away. Humanity’s constant need to go down the road of concern only for self and what’s in it for me and Jesus’ stunning willingness to go up the hill to the cross. Humankind’s deep sorrow when it comes to all our stuff and Jesus’ deep sorrow for his own suffering and death. Maybe for Luke, the lack of “hosannas”, the dropping of the shout, the striking of the “save us” was because that procession was never about us. It was all about him. And there is nothing royal or regal about it. It’s just tragic. Jesus comes to love and transform the world, to usher in and anoint God’s kingdom, to seek and save the lost, and the broken, blasted, messed up world killed him for it. The answer to the question about eternal life and being saved, is never about us. It is about him. And it is do difficult for the disciples, for the followers of Jesus, for you, and for me, to grasp any of that.
Several weeks ago there was an article in the New York Times about one of those doomsday preachers, self-anointed prophets, who dwells in, creates, and markets and sells an apocalyptic worldview of predictions, disasters, judgement; along with explanations and justifications for current events all foretold in the pages of the bible thousands of years ago. This preacher who calls himself a rabbi is not way down in the deep south in an arena. He is up in a box store in Wayne, New Jersey just an hour or so from New York City. According to the article, a thousand people flock to hear him on Friday evenings and Sunday mornings. His books are best sellers. The disturbing parts of what I read are too numerous to mention. But two things struck me most. The first was that in this article about a Christian, Pentecostal, charismatic, evangelical pastor/author who is a rising star in that world of evangelical Christian media personalities, Jesus was never mentioned in the article. Jesus never came up in the interview with the pastor or in the quotes from his preaching or in his invitation for people to be born again. Nothing about Jesus. It was all about him. Then, right at the end of the long article, there was just a passing comment by a woman in the congregation. At the end of this long article about prophecy, and destruction, and judgment, and the world pretty much coming to the end, she mentioned to the writer, that after she joined the congregation, her income tripled and then quadrupled and that God did that.
And somewhere, somewhere in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus took the twelve aside and he tried to tell them. He tried to help them understand. He pointed yet again, for the umpteenth time, he pointed up the road to Jerusalem. He told them yet again about his being mocked, insulted, spat upon, and killed. Humanity’s never-ending love for the things of this world and Jesus’ dying love for the world that knows him not. His love for a world whose utter brokenness broke him until there was no life in him. Before it is ever about us, before it was ever about us, it was, it is, about him.
As for being saved? As for salvation? He’s got that. And he is calling you and me to a life the world will never understand. A life of servant-hood, loving thy neighbor, going and doing likewise, embracing the lost, caring for the poor, welcoming the children.
You, me, us together, living for him. A life of love in him. For him. Through him. With him.