"You can't remove the effects of sin by yourself. I have to remove it."
This thought literally woke me from a dead sleep. Why? It seems a no-brainer: the absolute basic of the faith I profess. So why would it wake me like this?
Have you ever interacted with a child who had been abused? I have. Every action is calculated in an attempt to be "right" or "good enough," to figure out the formula for receiving the abuser's approval and removing the impact of whatever transgression the abuser says she's committed. Often there is no legitimate transgression; but that's a tangent. I want to focus on the act of trying to remove the disapproval... It can never be done because even though the abuser might approve of one new thing that is done, that transgression is always in the abuser's memory, ready to be pulled out at a moment's notice as a reminder for how deserving the child is of the next assault.
To a certain extent, this cycle is familiar to most of us in some way: people abuse each other, period. Most of us would get offended if we were accused of abusing someone; but the truth is that most of the people I know have spoken an abusive word at some point in their lives, carry grudges because they don't know how to forgive, etc. Sometimes we abuse because we are afraid of being abused... It's just part of being human.
And so most people approach God from the standpoint of longing for approval and trying to earn it with their actions (works). They go to church every time the doors open--or maybe on token days hoping to show that yes, they're Christians. They give the right amount of money. They do this and that to help "the poor." They abstain from this or that. And in the innermost places of their heart, they are asking, "God, am I good enough yet? Aren't You proud of me?" I know about this... I've done it at times.
We see people having this problem in their earthly relationships with Jesus. Martha wanted him to be proud of the table she set, the clean house she invited him into... He preferred the quiet company of her sister, who sat down with him and paid attention to him. What a slap in the face; but what a striking example of the reality of life with Jesus! "Please stop trying to impress me. I'm already here."
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"
"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said 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 a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"
Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." (Luke 10:17-27)
What Jesus asked of the rich man required much more than is revealed in this passage... I am not very rich; but I have a few possessions that I treasure. Most are items that I use. Some are items that have sentimental value to me: the first piece of furniture I ever purchased with my own money, my Grandmother's kitchen table, etc. I would have a difficult time emotionally if challenged to sell some of these items.
I once bought an entertainment center made of oak... It stood five feet high and had big, heavy doors on the front. It was a bear to move... But I was proud of it because for me it was a status symbol. Giving it up was one of the hardest things I ever did; but it was necessary. When I gave it up, I knew that the person I left it to would sell it. I gave it up for that purpose. It was a very selfish purchase and something I will never repeat. I don't regret what I did. The person needed the money, and I did NOT need that entertainment center in the grand scheme of things.
But that was one item, and I don't generally have a negative attitude about people who are poor. I've observed that the wider the gap, the more the person tends to give money based on whether he/she feels the poor person "deserves" it or will make wise use of it. In general, I don't have a problem with the issue of good stewardship: giving a meal instead of money so that the person eats instead of splurging on addictive substances. I do have a problem with the general societal attitude that poor people are just lazy welfare bums who prefer handouts... If they are, it is because we as a society have taught them to lack the confidence to step out and change their lives and we as a society have demonstrated to them that life on welfare is more secure than life as a McDonald's employee.
Society wasn't much different back in Jesus' day. Beggars were shooed away; people with disabilities and diseases were pronounced unclean and hidden away. So, "Go and sell all you have and give to the poor," is not something this man would have received well. Can you see him turning up his nose in disgust? Maybe he never even got that far... Perhaps he was stuck on the idea of selling his possessions. But give to the poor? Those ungrateful, dirty, lazy beggars? Give MY money to THEM?
The rich man wanted to be "good enough" to inherit eternal life based on his actions. But according to that formula, he just couldn't hack it. God would have to do the saving work. We aren't told the outcome of the story. Did the rich man ever meet Jesus again? I certainly hope so! What he would have learned is that a transforming encounter with Almighty God would have given him such a compassion for those beggars--those lazy, undeserving, dirty people--that he couldn't help but sell his belongings and give to the poor!
Holiness is your life in me making me clean through your blood ... Only the blood of Jesus covers all of my sins only the life of Jesus renews me from within. Your blood is enough, your mercy complete Your work of atonement, paid for my debts, making me holy, from Only the Blood Words and Music by Brian Doerksen