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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Am I good enough yet?

There is a story in the New Testament about children.  Jesus is surrounded by these curious little ones, pushing at him, wanting to be with him, some there because their parents brought them, but some likely there because they beheld him with curiosity and wonder.  Some of his disciples just did not understand the press of the children - nor the desire of their parents for Jesus' blessing of their lives.  So, they want to send the kids away.  Isn't that so like us adults?   We see the "business" of the hour as more pressing than the needs of a young one's heart.  Then along comes a man who wants to pose a question to Jesus.  His question:  “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”  I don't think this is an unusual question to ask, but notice it was not the kids who asked this question, but the adult.  Jesus' response to the man reveals much about how it is we interpret our standing with Jesus.  Kids come in awe and wonder - adults come with plans and lists. 

As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.”  The disciples were staggered. “Then who has any chance at all?”
Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”  (Matthew 19:23-26 MSG)

You see, the parents brought the children because they hoped for a blessing from Jesus.  They wanted something from the great healer and teacher.  The kids just wanted to be with Jesus.  There is a tremendous difference in the approach of the child vs. the adult, isn't there?  The man who poses the question to Jesus is almost bursting with joy when Jesus responds back to his question with:  "Just do what God tells you."  Why?  Simply because he has been keeping all the rules for a while and he figures he is in the right place to get into the Kingdom of God by his "being good".  He equates "goodness" with his "right" actions instead of with the "grace" of God.  Kids somehow understand grace - if you don't believe me, catch a kid stealing cookies from the cookie jar and allow them to eat the cookies.  The child will see this as deserving whatever punishment you would dish out, but you giving a little grace to them instead!  They will merrily eat the cookies and enjoy your grace-filled presence all the while!  They equate grace with love.

For the young man who thinks he enters God's presence with good deeds, his bubble is about to be burst.  Jesus' response really was not what he anticipated.  Jesus told him to do something he just could not do - sell all, give it to the poor, and then follow Jesus.  Jesus is not against wealth or us having nice things.  Indeed, if you have these, they are ALL a blessing from the Lord.  Yet, he zeros in on this one thing for this young man.  Why?  It is likely because Jesus wants to show him his "good works" are really only superficial.  Jesus gets at the core of the matter when he asks the man to begin to give away what it is he relies upon.  This is how it is with God - he gets at the core of things.  If we have something other than him (his grace) that we are relying upon, he will focus on it.  He does so, not because he wants us to be defeated by it, but because he knows our reliance on whatever it is will defeat us in the end.

As was often the case, the disciples have to ask Jesus why it is he chose to focus on this man's wealth as a way of entering into service with Jesus.  It is likely they saw this man's "deeds" as pretty doggone good themselves, so they don't really "get" why Jesus would tell this man he is not ready to enter the kingdom.  In his faithfulness, Jesus takes the disciples aside and explains to them why it is the man's good deeds don't ensure entrance into God's kingdom.  I wonder if Jesus ever gets tired with all our "why" questions - if he does, he doesn't show it!  Thank goodness!  

The most amazing thing about Jesus is his simplicity.  You may think the opposite is true - that his complexity is most amazing, but I think it is his simplicity.  He is so straight-forward with these guys - wanting them to really understand what he has been saying.  You see, it is not the wise who enter the kingdom, but the simple.  Those who are willing to lay down all their preconceived ideas of how God's kingdom works and are willing to latch onto something as "non-complex" as grace - they "get" it.  To many, grace seems so complex - like it cannot be enough to get God's blessing - there must be something more required of US.  Nope!  Grace is a free gift of God understood best through the heart of a child.  A child seeks grace.  They understand the standing they have with their father is not so much in what it is they do, but in the way the father responds to them when they mess up.  Grace extended becomes the very binding force of love in the relationship.  So it is with our heavenly Father.  He wants us to realize our standing with him is not based on what we do, but on how he responds when we mess up in our "doing".

I don't know about you, but I mess up a lot.  In all my mess ups, God remains faithfully gracious.  Why?  Simply because he knows my heart is that of a child.  I am more in awe with who he is than in what it is I can do to impress him.  I just want to be with him and to enjoy his presence.  So, when I mess up, his response is grace.  I don't understand grace fully, but I know I am drawn in by those arms of love and I like it!  Just sayin!