There is an old story (sometimes thought to be from Aesop, but at least coming from 1st century Greek philosopher Epictetus) about a boy who puts his hand in a pitcher of figs and filberts, grabbing so many that he cannot pull his hand out. We all know the moral of the story--that he has to let go in order to free his hand.
Jesus talks about something similar a few decades earlier when He encountered a man with much wealth. The man falls at Jesus feet, wanting to inherit (or get) eternal life. He has kept all the commandments. Clearly, he is a good person, has done the right things, and can humbly come before Jesus. Jesus, with much love for the man the text tells us, tells him the other thing he must do to inherit eternal life is to give away all his possessions. The man leaves, dejected.
Hearing it in church, made me thing that today the story might go like this:
A wealthy business CEO (like Tony Stark--someone who does good things, is smart, and inherited the company fortune from his father) comes before Jesus. "Jesus, I'd like to gain eternal life. What can I do to get that?"
"Remember all those things your parents and Sunday school teachers told you to do? Do them."
"I have. I've run my business honestly. I've been faithful to my spouse. I've never hurt anyone. Trust me, Jesus, I'm a good person. I'd be a great fit for Heaven."
"Alright then," Jesus replies, "then you only need to get rid of all your possessions and wealth so that you can help those who have none."
"Oh, but I give to charity already."
"I mean get rid of it all. You're holding on to it too tightly." The man leaves, glumly.
Then Jesus turns to the middle-class house wife next to Him.
"How about you? Do you desire eternal life as well?"
"Yes, of course. And don't worry about me...I don't have many possessions. We have little in our bank account. We still manage to tithe ever Sunday."
"Good. Then you just need to let go of your judgmentalism, your envy, your emotional insecurity, and your desires for your children's future." She walks away, sullen.
Then He turns to me.
"And you...you need to let go of your fears, your hurt, your pride, your isolation, your intellectualism, your compulsions, your..."
Pastor Jan noted in tonight's sermon that we have to release in order to gain. We dispossess to possess.
We don't "inherit eternal life" or "get into Heaven." We can't do anything to merit it. And, in many ways, it's not the goal. We follow Jesus. We enter into a relationship with God. The Kingdom of Heaven is here...and not yet. But it isn't for those who are holding onto things. We have to come with empty hands to Jesus...or at least bring those things we need to give to Him. I don't necessarily like this idea. I find much comfort in some of the things I hang onto, but I can only call Jesus "Lord" if I have let go of those things and let Him have all of me.