What must I do to “inherit” eternal life? That’s what the man asks. He doesn’t ask how he can earn it….rather how he can “inherit” it.
Inheritance comes as a gift. It is a sheer gift given to us that was earned by those who came before us. And one thing you need to know at this point, is that this man with many possessions was wealthy for only one reason… he inherited it. Wealth wasn’t created in that culture…it was inherited. Just like most of the world at that time…and honestly, most of the world in our own time…rigid class structures existed, keeping landowners wealthy and keeping the lower classes poor…with a great divide in between. You know, people get all worked up about the inheritance tax in this country….but really, it came into being out of the deep American belief that every person should have the ability to create wealth or not based upon their own work…and to protect our economy from the disparities caused by inherited wealth.
So…this man who comes to Jesus has inherited wealth. He is one of the “haves” in his his world…which means he has status. He has a place in society…an influential voice in his community. But he wants more. He wants status that doesn’t end. Status with God. He wants eternal life. He is one of the privileged people in his world…and now he wants to be one of God’s privileged ones as well.
Now he is pretty sure he is “good”. He has done all the right things — he has been upright, honest in his dealings, has not cheated on his wife or dishonored his parents. He hasn’t killed anyone. He’s rich, yes…part of the upper class…but he’s a good guy. So maybe he’s one of God’s upper class as well.
But Jesus throws him a curve ball. Basically, he says…give it all up. Give up your identity as one of the movers and shakers. Give up the security of your wealth and your status and your place in society that you inherited. Become a day laborer… become someone who has to work or beg for their daily bread. Become dependent. Lowly. Unimportant. That’s how you inherit God’s wealth. That’s when you truly come to know the extravagance of God’s grace. That’s when it is placed in your lap as sheer gift, undeserved, unearned…in the way your own privilege was bestowed on you.
Here’s the reality. We cannot earn grace. We can only inherit it…but we only inherit it …we only receive the amazing gift that it is when we finally realize we are completely dependent upon God. It is stinking hard for wealthy and healthy people to realize they are completely dependent upon God. Because everything’s okay. People who feel like they have things under control… people who are comfortable and secure and happy…quite frankly do not see a need for Jesus. They don’t understand why we would want to come to church. Why we would want to follow Jesus. No, always…always… It is the desperate, the hurting, the suffering, the sick, the frightened — or in the words of the beatitudes… the meek, the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, those who are persecuted…who see Jesus and realize that he is the way, the truth and the life. They are the ones who find hope in Jesus. They are the ones who truly see God…the ones who realize how precious it is to be a child of God and how deeply we are rooted, all that we have and all that we are..in God But for those who have it all together ….well, getting them trust God, to rely on God, to see God…well, it’s like trying to get a camel…the biggest animal in their world, through the eye of a needle…the smallest opening in their world. And please don’t tell me about a short gate that was called “the eye of the needle” that camels had to kneel to get through….there wasn’t one. Some preacher in the eighth century made that up to make this story more palatable when he preached it to wealthy landowners and ruling classes. And the fact that the story still persists speaks only to the fact that we still want to make it palatable to people who are well off. Like most of us. Nope…Jesus meant what he said. Camel. Needle. Not happening in any way, shape or form…no matter what we try to do. When we’re rich, we’re just too dang hooked in to the security of our wealth to let go and let God. And fully receive God’s amazing grace. It’s impossible.
But here’s the thing. God can do impossible things. God can do impossible things. God can heal the sick. Cast out the demons. Forgive our sins. Resurrect the dead. And rearrange atoms so that blasted camel can get through that needle’s eye.
Eternal life is God’s impossible gift. For you. And when you are hurting..when you are grieving….there is nothing sweeter. When you are at the end of your rope..when you are feeling worthless and hopeless…..there is nothing more beautiful. The truth is, when you are last in the line for life’s good things…often you are first in line to realize how amazing God’s grace is.
But, even when you don’t realize how sweet…how beautiful it is….even when you are a lumpy old camel on the wrong side of the needle….Jesus is still the way, the truth and the life. And he still loves you. You heard that, right? Jesus looked at this rich man…and loved him. Even when you’re pretty sure you’ve got the way mapped out and the truth figured out and your life put together…You are still God’s beloved child. And someday…when you realize you don’t… that you don’t have it all figured out….Jesus will be there. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there…someday every one of us will realize that the only thing that matters is God. And the truth…the absolute truth….that God has us, holds us and won’t ever, ever let us go. And That is eternal life. Your rich inheritance. Amen.