Monday, January 24, 2011

The Hard Stuff Is For Me

I don't expect anyone reading this to find any of it original...but like a kid discovering what the garage remote button does--"Hey everybody, check this out!"--I get all excited when I stumble upon something new.  As if I'm Livingstone discovering Victoria Falls or something.  Good grief.

Since my friend's insite on Jesus' interaction with the 'rich young ruler,' I've been thinking about this dude for the last couple of days.  This morning I re-read the story of this encounter in Matthew 19 and the same account in Luke 18 and Mark 10.  I guess I sort of assumed that a fair bit of what was driving Jesus in this encounter was his love and compassion for the poor.  Predisposed by Jesus' obvious passion to hang out with, love and touch 'the least of these' I assumed that one of the primary motivations driving this interchange was that Jesus really wanted to use the rich guy's abundance to help the poor.

But as I look at what actually transpires here, it seems to me that it is the rich guy himself who is the focus of this entire encounter.  Right before telling him to ditch his junk, Mark tells us that "Jesus looked at him and loved him."  And then he tells him to do the hardest thing he's ever been asked to do.  When the rich man demurs, Jesus doesn't express disappointment at a missed opportunity to help the poor--"think about how much suffering could have been alleviated if this man cashed in his mutual funds like I told him to."  His focus is still on the rich man, and he expresses sorrow at how difficult it is for the rich to step out of the kingdom of this world and into the realm of the kingdom of heaven.

Seems to me that Jesus' whole point in this instance wasn't an attempt to bless the poor...he was trying to free the rich man from the gold chains that kept this man a prisoner of his stuff.

Could it be that the hard stuff that Jesus tells me to do is primarily for me?  Certainly the poor would have been impacted by the money from this man--otherwise Jesus wouldn't have given him precise instructions as to what to do with his wealth--but that impact would most likely have been short-lived.  Jesus was targeting something so much bigger: the eternal earthquake of giving this man his soul back.

I don't have any real enemies that I'm aware of (though my surf board and I have a pretty bad relationship right now) but we're all jostling around in a crowd of pretty badly broken people and occasionally someone says or does something unkind.  It happens.  Sometimes people do me wrong.  Recently someone came in to my office and clued me in to a situation, of which I had been blissfully unaware, in which I had been 'done wrong.'  Predictably my first response was an urge to defend myself and a desire to find a way to creatively return the favor.  But this time, I had a secondary response.  I suspect it was from having been camped out in these amazing words of Jesus, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."  I heard myself saying to the bearer of ill tidings, "Let's pray for this guy who did this."  That wouldn't be that uncommon for me in this kind of a situation...I'd pray that God would change this man's heart and lead him back to the truth and, if necessary, use war, famine and pestilence to accomplish this growth in his life.  But today was a day of things uncommon for me... those weren't the words that came out during my prayer...I simply asked God to bless the socks of this guy and to give he and his family every good thing.  Kinda stunned myself, really...

And here's the cool thing--I went home from work that day a completely free man.  I felt no burdens because I never slung this man's offense over my shoulder to carry.  And again it struck me...God may decide to use our love for the 'hurters' to bless them, and maybe even change them, but perhaps the primary reason Jesus gives me the hard command to "pray for those who mistreat you" is because He wants me to enjoy a life that's abundant and free.

The hard stuff is for me.


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