Thursday, March 3, 2011

Homily 24: Wind and Chaff (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"Jesus said to him, 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'" Matt. 19:21

If we miss the last part of this statement, then we miss the whole statement. Jesus was not offering a sociopolitical commentary about poverty, nor was he delivering some monastic creed and command regarding asceticism. He is merely making a practical application of what he told his disciples back in chapter 16: "deny [your]self...and come follow me" (vs. 24). The rich young ruler's "self" was centered on his possessions, thus making them a potential (and in the end, an actual) barrier to devotion to Jesus. Helping the poor does not make you "perfect" anymore than being wealthy does. Following Jesus it what makes you "perfect," because Jesus is the whole point of our lives. We deny everything so that we may "follow" Him, i.e., place Him first and foremost in our lives. If we do not follow Jesus first, then all that we do for the poor (or anyone else), no matter how noble, will be in vain.

Jesus always demands that we "deny" our "self". What we need to learn from the rich young ruler is that our "self" can take on many forms. For him, his "self" was wrapped up in his possessions. For the Pharisees, their "self" was wrapped up in their religion. For the disciples, their "self" was wrapped up in their notions about  the Messiah and what it meant to even be His disciple, which included notions about being charitable to the poor! People can be equally enslaved to their affluence and their religious sensibilities. Remember the woman at Bethany (Matt. 26:6-13). The disciples rebuked her for her apparent lack of concern for the "poor" (vs. 8-9). Jesus, in return, rebukes them: "You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me" (vs. 11). The woman's priorities were correct, and that is the point. There is only one needful thing, and that is Jesus. All our work and "stuff" is so much wind and chaff without Him.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

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