Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Rich Young Ruler and Surrendering

At church this morning, the topic was sacrifice and surrender to Christ.  The pastor preached about the rich young ruler, who was loved by Jesus, and yet the rich young ruler did not obey Jesus' instructions to sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus (Mark 10:17-31). 

The "Prayer of Confession" included this line: "We would present to You our very lives, if we could only do so in comfort."  That's portrayed as a bad thing. 

I'm not a big fan of the themes of sacrifice and surrender.  Why does doing good have to entail sacrifice, or surrender, or me giving something up, or me somehow being uncomfortable?  Can't I do good from within my comfort zone?  And do I have to be absolutely perfect?

Moreover, I tend to cringe when religious leaders step in and present ways for us to sacrifice.  Give, give, give!  Obey us!  Perhaps my family's experiences in the Armstrongite movement has colored how I see this issue!

At church this morning, however, although I didn't care for the Prayer of Confession, I actually did enjoy some of the things that I heard and sang.  In terms of the sermon, the pastor noted that the story of the rich young ruler says that Jesus loved him, and so the ruler was choosing his own riches rather than a relationship with Jesus.  According to my pastor, the rich young ruler probably came to Jesus out of a sense of emptiness, but he chose to return to his emptiness rather than to give up his riches.  And, while I for a long time have not been a great fan of the hymn "I Surrender All" (see here), I noticed as I sang and reread the lyrics that it contained themes that I liked: feeling God's presence, knowing that I am God's, trusting God, being filled with God's love, being strengthened by God, being blessed by God, etc.  In essence, the hymn portrayed God as someone who loves me and wants to be present in my life.

I then wondered: What exactly would the rich young man have gained had he left all behind and followed Jesus?  I myself would be quite reluctant to leave behind a comfortable place to live and to travel around in the hot sun with a bunch of smelly guys who liked to debate amongst themselves about who was the greatest.  And yet, I probably would want to be around someone who was my friend and who loved me----Jesus.  And I would like to be a part of something that was doing a lot of good, as was the Jesus movement, which was healing people, driving out demons, and changing people's lives and making them new.  It's nice to accumulate stuff.  But isn't it better to do something that truly matters? 

At the present time, I don't feel compelled to give anything up, per se.  But I am sensitized to the importance that I embrace Jesus' love, and try to do good in the world.  Then, if that ever entails me giving something up----to be part of something that God is doing, or to contribute time or money to something that helps people----that hopefully I would be willing to do so.  I'd do so with discretion, mind you.  I won't give to a ministry or organization where the leaders get rich off of the flock's donations.  But I'd be open to contributing my time and money to something other than myself, for the benefit of others.  And, in the process, I benefit, as I experience God more deeply and see that good is being accomplished.

4 comments:

  1. We had the same lesson and without all the usual baggage. Nice. I see this lesson as one of several self-portraits in Mark. He is the rich young man whom Jesus loved; he is the one who saw men as trees walking; and he is the young man who ran away in the garden.

    What must "I" do? Only what you hear and see from the Spirit of the same Jesus.

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  2. Hi Bob! Your comment is interesting. Are you saying that Mark was those people, or that he identified with them, or that he crafted them as spiritual paradigms, or something else?

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  3. I suspect they are enacted parables. Jesus did something for this young man equivalent to what the Spirit did for the poets of Israel. This young man then crafted his drama (of the one who looked on him and loved him - a phrase unique to Mark) around what he had learned (sometimes slowly). The enacted parable of the 'men as trees walking' fits Mark to a tee if he is the one who accompanied Paul and left on that first journey - so that Paul did not want to travel with him again but later commended him.

    My application does not need to be an exclusive explanation. We search for 'explanation' too much. The meaning for us is in the following not in the thinking. It is in the Teaching, not in the final 'understanding'. The Torah is God's act of love and God's love song to us.

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  4. Yeah, that's a good point----Mark needed to grow, so there was a stage at which he was incomplete, like the partially-healed blind man.

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