selling out for Jesus: thoughts on Proper 14C

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Gospels / Lectionary / New Testament

“Sell your possessions.”

Oh, man. Isn’t there a seminarian I can get to preach this week?

“Sell your possessions.”

Really?

The thing is, that this isn’t the only time that Jesus utters these very words. When talking with the rich young ruler, he tells him to do thusly to secure eternal life.

And we all know that the rich young ruler turned around and walked away sad, because the price was too much.

“Sell your possessions.”

Oh, the temptation to spiritualize this command is so great. ‘Just don’t be attached to what you have.’ ‘Give some to the poor, and all will be ok.’

Ah, but no. Jesus really meant what he said.

And he said it twice.

And so, here I sit, in a chic New York City restaurant, overlooking the Hudson River (ok, I had a salad…), and ready to go back into the safe and beautiful confines of The Cloisters… and here I sit typing on my iPad, and periodically checking my email and Facebook on my iPhone… And what I have to ruminate on is “sell your possessions…”

Oh man.

There is a strong anti-wealth sentiment that runs through the scriptures, and particularly in Luke-Acts. It’s in Luke that John the Baptist summarizes the Good News by imploring the crowds to share what they had. It’s in Luke that Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, where the Rich Man ends up in Hades because he failed to do anything for the poor Lazarus. It’s in Acts where the post-resurrection community of believers had no possessions but held everything in common and gave freely to the poor.

“But, that’s socialism!”

Whatever. It’s the Good News.

The dangers of this passage are to either demonize wealth (Jesus also hung out with the wealthy, like Joseph of Arimathea), or to sentimentalize poverty. If you’ve ever experienced or seen real poverty, there’s nothing sentimental about it.

The teachings of Jesus are about connecting ourselves to God, and severing the connections to our own stuff, our own ego, our own ravenous appetites and desires.

This passage is so foreign to our spiritual experience, but it is foundational to the Christian faith that Jesus taught. To reclaim this teaching without recoiling (or walking away sad) is part of our pilgrimage, walking in the footsteps of Jesus and his first followers.

I don’t claim to understand it. And I’m probably not going to sell the iPad on my way home tonight. But, I know that I need to hear these words of Jesus far more, and far more deeply, than I need to hear the words of another commercial telling me that my life wont be complete without yet another ‘magical and revolutionary device,’ be it a phone, pad, or snuggie.

“Sell your possessions.”

Lord Jesus, show me what that looks like, and help me live your words more nearly, without fear or prejudice.