Summary: Salvation seems elusive, whether it means personal peace, reconciliation, or productive life. Good Friday we see what God will do about that frustration.
Everyone gets frustrated. In ways small or great, we feel the frustration of not being able to do what we want to do, not being able have what we want to have, not being able to achieve as we would want to achieve.
Young people, by nature, dream great dreams. If you give them half a chance, they will tell you what they want to become. Come upstairs with me some Friday to our After-School program, and the children will speak of being astronauts or zoo-keepers, they will talk about their ambition to be an actor or a football star or a political leader, and there are stars in their eyes. They really believe they can achieve these things. But we, older and wiser adults, having been around the block a few times, smile indulgently and say, “Yes, dear, you night do that.” But what we mean is, “within reason” And at a price I can afford. As long as it is profitable enough to take care of your mother and me in our old age. But other than that, sure, go ahead, be what you can be.
And slowly but surely, you know, dreams die. The expectations we silently project on our children seep in, and they begin to edit their dreams. They get their dreams downsized to fit the reality someone else imposes on them. They get their dreams downsized when they face the economy and try to enter the job market and focus on supporting their own young families. Dreams die. Dreams are frustrated.
Maybe we can hear a dream on its way to apparent frustration in the dialogue between our young man and Jesus. We have listened, up to now, not too sympathetic to this brash young questioner. We have suggested that when he posed his sweeping issue, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” -- we have suggested that he was way off the mark, and that his question was just crammed with wrong assumptions. I made a whole sermon a couple of weeks ago out of the idea that the question was self-centered and that he didn’t recognize the place that grace would have to play in his life. Way off the mark.
But what if it was not such a bad question? What if it really is an honest, searching question? What if it is a real spiritual dream, a quest for truth? What if he truly has come to Jesus, penitent, open, ready, thirsting for truth? If he has, by the time we get to tonight’s ultimate question, he surely must have felt frustrated. Am I not going to get a straight answer? Am I to have no clear, straightforward, concise answer?
Listen again to the series of questions and responses between our young seeker and Jesus:
“Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?
“Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“[All those which begin] You shall not .... and [one more], you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
“I have kept all these; what do I still lack?”
“Go, sell, give, come, follow ”. A rapid series of imperatives. Go, sell, give, come, follow. When the young man heard this word, we went away grieving. And the disciples, Jesus’ disciples, themselves young men, themselves men with the still unfulfilled but not quite forgotten dreams of youth, the disciples asked, “Then who can be saved?” Frustrated, puzzled, confused, anxious. “Who can be saved?”
Jesus, it seems you have ruled everybody out. You have pronounced salvation so difficult that none of us are going to make it. You have put the Kingdom at so far a reach that none can grasp it. Jesus, you speak often of the Father’s salvation. But then you tell us it will cost a king’s ransom, you tell us we must go and sell all our possessions, you tell us that we must invest in the poor and the lonely, the hungry and the hurting .. and there are so many of them, overwhelmingly many. If we have to do all of that to be saved, “Then who can be saved?”
The dream of salvation. It feels frustrated, doesn’t it, in so many ways? What has happened to the hope of salvation?
Salvation ought to mean personal peace. It ought to mean a settled heart and a satisfied soul. But for many that seems so very elusive. This week we are reeling from the news accounts of thirty-nine people who rubbed out their own lives in search of salvation and spiritual peace. Believing that in the heavens there was a sign, meant for them, intended to spell out the promise for which they had waited, the Heaven’s Gate cult ate a poisonous concoction and apparently, peacefully, slipped away into nothingness. Tragic, just tragic, that there was no better news for them, no better avenue to salvation that came to their attention. Salvation is supposed to mean a settled heart and a satisfied soul. But for them, only frustration. “Then who can be saved?”