Summary: A sermon for Pentecost 19B/Proper 23 preached on 10/11/2009 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon, Iowa. It answers the real question of the text: "What must I do to inherit eternal life."
How many of you here this morning enjoy shopping? For a lot of us, shopping can be a wonderful experience, especially if you are shopping for stuff you like. When time and money are available for a shopping trip, we often look through the ads either in the newspaper or online to find the best deals. We then travel to the store or the mall with great anticipation. Once we get there, we see all sorts of things that catch our attention. We look at something that wasn’t on our list and think “hmm…I already have one of those at home, but I could sure use a new one with all the latest features on it!” If you’re like me, sometimes you end up picking up a few things that are not on the list as well. It’s a lot of fun….until you get to the checkout stand. The cashier runs your items through the scanner, and then, presents you with your total amount due. That joy and excitement suddenly vanishes. “Wait a minute…how did the bill get to be THAT big? Surely there has to be some mistake!” But nope, it’s right. All those extras added up, turning your wonderful shopping experience a bit sour. Or, for others of you, it happens when you get your monthly phone, cable, or satellite TV bills. You see the total is more than you expect, and then go through each itemized charge, to find all sorts of extra charges, and perhaps a few extra long distance calls someone in your house made that went over your limit. Or, if you start out to build something, or start into a home improvement project it ends up requiring more work than expected. There just always seems to be more than we bargained for in life, isn’t there?
The young man who approaches Jesus in our Gospel reading for this morning has a similar experience. We read into the text that when this man comes to Jesus, he’s very excited at first. In fact, he runs up to Jesus and kneels before him, which shows us he has to be pretty excited about having this opportunity to ask Jesus a question, and to have Jesus give him an answer. He addresses Jesus “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Seems like a simple enough question, that deserves a simple answer.
So, Jesus starts His response by saying “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Jesus, being God in flesh, the 2nd person of the Trinity, can see beyond this guy’s question. He sees what is in this man’s heart. He sees the real question this guy is asking. What prompts Jesus’ response. “You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, do not bear false witness, Do not defraud (or covet as most of you learned it in the Small Catechism), Honor your father and mother.” What Jesus is saying, is “Okay, you want to talk about Good and eternal life? Well, we have to use God’s definition of Good. Are you good according to God’s standards? Have you perfectly kept the commandments?” Jesus gives this young man a brief review of the commandments.
And this young man’s response is telling. He says “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” He listens to Jesus reel off the commandments on how to treat his neighbor, and this guy seems like a shoe in. He’s what we would consider a “good person.” I can just picture this guy treating this like a checklist as Jesus is reciting these commandments. “Let’s see here….do not murder, check. Do not commit adultery, check. Do not steal, never done that one, so check. And it goes like this on down the list. It’s like that shopping analogy I started the sermon with. He’s looking at the list of commandments Jesus is reciting, and treating it as a shopping list, and now, here he is at the check out counter. He’s ready to find out that all of his law keeping has earned him eternal life.
But, remember when we talked about that surprise in that analogy? Well, here’s where it comes into play in our text. Jesus looks at this young man, and says “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me,” And what happens? We’re told “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Right here, Jesus gives this young man his “sticker shock” if you will. It turns out, the total is more than this man is willing to pay. It’s as if he’s saying “Now wait a minute, Jesus! I kept all those other commandments, what’s up with this? You can’t expect me to sell everything I have, give the proceeds away, and then just go follow you! That’s too high! I’m sorry, but I have to walk away at this point.”