There is a way of catching monkeys in India. You put food in a jar and tie the jar to a tree. Then just leave it there. The monkey meanders by, sniffs, and reaches into the jar to grab the food. Only, when her hand is clenched into a fist, she can’t get it out of the jar. If she lets go of the food, she could be free. But that funny little monkey hardly ever lets go of the food. She wants it too much. She thinks she needs it too much. And so the monkey loses her freedom- and perhaps her life- because she won’t let go of something good.
In today’s gospel reading, a sincere seeker runs up to Jesus and, kneeling before Him, asks: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17) From the sound of it, this man seems very sincere. He doesn’t seem to be testing Jesus as the Pharisees often did. He really wanted to know.
And if he really wanted to know, that must mean that there was something behind the question. Like new people walking into church: they don’t just show up because there’s nothing else to do! Some people may be so well-trained by their parents that they wouldn’t dream of missing a Sunday, but that sort of person is few and far between these days! Most newcomers walk in because something in their life is missing: there’s a hole that they heard maybe God could fill.
Like St. Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord”- for You have created us with an emptiness which only You can fill.
And this seeker must have come to Jesus with a hole in his life, something that felt so empty, so like death… to make him crave the answer to life so earnestly. Mark says that he was a very wealthy man, but apparently even his wealth couldn’t fill the emptiness within him. And so he was brought to his knees at Jesus’ feet: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
What do we need to feel whole inside? To feel alive inside? When have we lost something, lost someone, and we felt so empty that we wondered if there was any life left in us? And we wondered if anyone could ever understand the grief, the emptiness within us?
Thoreau described what we all feel at one point in our lives: “People live lives of quiet desperation.” The man who came to Jesus was desperate. Other desperate people had thrown themselves before Jesus: Jairus, the man whose daughter lay dying; the widow, whose son had just died; the man, whose son was almost drowned by demons. When death is close to us, we lose our reserve, we cast ourselves at the feet of the One who can help. And so that man knelt before Jesus and asked from the depths of his heart, “What can I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now, when we ask for eternal life, what is it we’re asking for? Are we wanting to keep on living the way we are right now, forever? Do we mean continuing with the same emptiness, the same frustrations, the same loneliness without end? Does it mean clutching to all our yesterdays which seem now so blessed?
When we speak of eternal life, of inheriting God’s Realm, I believe we have something else in mind- A quality of life that is full, and whole, and joyous.
In Luke 10:25, another person asked Jesus the same question: “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” And the answer was given, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Love without limit; intimacy with God and our sisters and brothers; wholeness, fullness, joy: that is what eternal LIFE is about. And it starts right here, right now. An end to the emptiness, the grief, the loneliness, filled instead with healing, peace, intimacy: the fullness of life. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Jesus looked at the man, and said with such love, such compassion that if he wanted to live, he would have to sell all he had, and give it to the poor. Then he would have his treasure in heaven. And then he was to follow Jesus.
Wait a minute! The man has spent his whole life trying to secure his life. Giving away all he had would make him… homeless. Insecure.Without anything to lean on. And he would die. He would just die.
Jesus saw something different, of course. Jesus looked upon him, and loved him, and saw that which was killing him from the inside out.
What is it we fear the most? What kills us, from the inside out? It’s a very hard question, because the thing which is killing us is usually the very thing we’re trying to hide, to protect, to save.
The reason why we won’t let go of what is killing us is that we’re afraid that if we let go, something inside us will die. The person we love who has died will disappear from our hearts. We’ll fall into chaos; we won’t be able to cope; we’ll be overlooked, forgotten. And so we cling to hell, in fear of heaven. Like monkeys with our fists in the jar, and the hunters approaching.
What does Jesus do when He sees His beloved ones cry out, “What can we do to inherit eternal life? Jesus looks at us, and loves us deeply. And He looks straight into our heart and sees the thing which we fear the most, which we cling to the most. And He says, That thing- the thing to which you cling; the thing that feels like death if you let it go? Let go of it. Give it away. Leave it behind… and follow Me.
But we can’t leave it behind, Jesus! We will lose too much! We will hurt too much! And we don’t have the strength to bear the pain.
And Jesus replies,“Come to me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28)
Blessed are you, dear friends. Blessed are you when you are heavy laden with fear and grief, for you know this is no way to live.
Blessed are you when you give to God that which drains the life from you. For your treasure shall be the presence of God and the fullness of life, now and forevermore. Amen.
In the Name of the One who looks on you in love, and will never let you go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
SCRIPTURE FOR NOV. 18, 2018 Mark 10:17-31
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him. He asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.” The man replied, “Teacher, ever since I was a child I have obeyed these commandments.” Jesus, looked at him, and loved him, and said, “You lack one thing: go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. After that, come and follow Me.” When the man heard this he was shocked, and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them 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 someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were astounded. “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible. But for God all things are possible.” Peter said to Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house… or brothers… or sisters… or parents, or children, or fields, for my sake… who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age, and eternal life in the age to come. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.