Present Imperfect

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, Numbers 16:1-19, Romans 3:21-31, Matthew 19:13-22


The story of the rich young man is generally reduced to the beginning when the man asked how to be good, and the end when he left grieving because Jesus instructed him to sell all his many possessions and follow him. We commonly interpret this story to mean discipleship requires abandoning everything but Christ. This understanding is consistent with parables like the pearl of great price, but the middle of the story is the meat in the sandwich.

The man’s original question was: “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus responded: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.” In other words, wrong question, buddy. Jesus followed with: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” When the man asked which commandments (the full Mosaic law had hundreds), Jesus named a few common sense ones under the category of “love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said he kept them all, yet asked what he still lacked.

Sense a theme? The man sought a formula for salvation. We are saved by grace and not deeds, but the rich young man couldn’t comprehend a system where he was not in control of his own salvation. Jesus’s final words to the man begin with: “If you wish to be perfect …” Ouch! Now the man had a completely avoidable burden of perfection laid on him. No wonder he grieved.

What if the man had been satisfied with “Love your neighbor as yourself?” If he could have accepted there wasn’t a salvation equation, but instead unearned grace, Jesus could have stopped right there.

Like the rich young man, we struggle to let go of that one last possession: a need for control. We claim grace, but insist on formulaic rules. “If you wish to be perfect” is not an introduction to advice on attaining perfection, but an indictment of any belief that we can or need to be. Faith is not an excuse to sin, but life under the law leads to grief. Life under faith leads to grace.

Comfort: God doesn’t expect perfection.

Challenge: Neither should we.

Prayer: God of Mercy, thank you for the gift of unearned grace. Teach me to extend that love to others. Amen.

Discussion: What rules do you have trouble letting go?

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