Sermon for June 2, 2019
Matthew 19 23-26
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, 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.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
The young man went away sad, and this is a beginning. This is the beginning of the spiritual emptiness that will make the rich man available to God's saving grace. This is the beginning of making space for God in places the world, wealth, once occupied.
Jesus states our condition, and the way to truth, so directly here that we could easily take it as just another condemnation of wealth in general. We could read these verses from a modern paradigm also, applying current societal and political views to a spiritual truth that transcends the changes that occur with time. What Jesus is leading us to is beyond the changing surface existence we inhabit.
Wealth does not refer to mere monetary, material wealth. Wealth refers to the totality of the accumulation we gain when we come into this world. Trace your life from conception to now. How many layers have you added? How many identities have you become? They are infinite if you look closely, as numerous as your ability to see. All the things of this world that are added to your true being constitute your wealth. This includes your identity, your spirituality, down to even the most holy of ideas you might believe to be exempt. All of these must be given up. Even if you rail against this idea, if you feel strong and confident right now, death will take it all eventually. If you see it now, within the timeline of your life, or at the moment of your death, you will see that the world has nothing that lasts.
But as the rich man walking away from Jesus, no doubt in deep sadness, we are left wondering how we could give up all the things we use to identify ourselves while we are actually living. Where would it leave us if we abandoned who we are? Couldn’t I lose my mind, die in poverty, be vulnerable to so many calamities? It seems a monumental task, once truly worthy of inspiring our sadness at the seeming impossibility of finding God, being saved. And, indeed, Jesus says it is impossible- for man.
This is why the sadness of the rich man is a beginning. This is why all of our suffering and hardship in life is a beginning, a teacher. The sense of futility, of being trapped, of helplessness in your own salvation, is the doorway to salvation itself. We are constantly taught to seek remedies in the outside world, to fix things, seek happiness and security, rely on ourselves. Jesus is turning that empty philosophy of depression and anxiety and world focus on its head. He is showing you the way out of a futile existence that, even if you believe you are happy with worldly things for now, will be totally gone at death, giving no lasting satisfaction.
In fact, your state of denial about death, and stubborn refusal to see the truth, is the source of depression and anxiety themselves. Of course you feel these things when you act as though you’re in control, you know what your doing, that you have any idea of the true context of your life. It’s the reason no riches ever truly satisfy, yet fear of losing those very riches paralyzes you also. You are trapped in a prison that doesn’t really exist.
When we truly realize that we are totally helpless to actually save ourselves, not just believe it or think it intellectually but realize it fully in every cell of our being, Jesus gives us a lifeline. You must, however, first become convinced of your own inability to really do anything. You must see this truth for yourself, in your own way and time. When you do, Jesus is waiting with a promise that never goes away. He tells us that with God, all things are possible. With man, salvation is impossible, with God, all things are possible.
The things we thought kept us secure, gave us meaning and reason for living, are as dust on a mirror, mere obscurations of our true identity in God. We look in the mirror, quite oblivious to its perfect ability to reflect any and all things, and see only an obscured image of what we think is ourselves. Yet, it goes deeper than this. Even if we clear away the dust, the accumulations of the world over us, there remains the reflection we may still believe we are. Giving up even the clear reflection of our idea of ourselves is the last hurdle to allowing God to show you the truth of who you really are.
This ‘last step’ is analogous to the rich man’s last hurdle. He came to Jesus having done everything he thought he could to gain salvation. In an everlasting moment of clarity, Jesus struck at the one thing the rich man could not yet give up. His wealth was referred to as literal wealth as it appears in these verses, but it is ultimately his identity, his separation from God, which keeps salvation from being possible.
We all have that last thing, the one thing we can’t give up because we know it requires giving up everything we think we are. It could be wealth, vanity, career, family, religion itself. But remember, we cannot give these things up in the way we achieve things in the world. We do not achieve salvation, we allow it. This is why Zen calls the way ‘no way’. There is no way to get grace, achieve salvation, become enlightened. The path is giving up the path, giving up seeking, letting God do the impossible while you step aside.
No man can give up everything. We are absolutely incapable of following the path Jesus has shown to us. When you finally realize that, it is your beginning. Seize on that moment of clarity, on your absolute inability to control anything, do anything, be anything that is not a mere idea. It is God’s promise to us that, in that moment, He will make the impossible, possible.