How many of you had to carve the turkey last week? What kind of knife did you need? A sharp one. A heavy one? What would have happened if you had used a double-edged knife? I was very surprised when I looked up the word sword in the New Testament, which is Machaira, which is the root of machete, to discover that it was not the Gladius used by Roman Soldiers and Gladiators, but more of a general word that could mean a weapon but also a butcher knife. I’ve never seen a butcher’s knife with two edges, but I can imagine that it would hurt the person using it if they weren’t careful.
Our faith is like that. If we use it as a weapon, we are likely to get hurt. Or to hurt ourselves if we use it incorrectly. On one hand, it is a great comfort to believe in a God who loves us. On the other hand, there are times when our belief leads us to throw up our hands and cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
The young man found this out the hard way. He wanted a quick trick, an easy list from Jesus, a tweet or maybe one of those websites that promise 5 easy steps to erase stretch marks or 7 ways to pay off your mortgage faster, something he could do that would guarantee God was on his side.
Jesus looked at him and carved him up from the inside out, saw the truth of him for what the young man was looking for, and rather than answer him with something easy straight out of an Oprah magazine, he went straight to the heart of the matter. Obey the laws about loving your neighbor.
The young man wasn’t happy with that, he wanted more. Maybe he was struggling with a sense of something missing in his life, maybe he was dealing with a string of bad luck that left him struggling with his faith. We don’t know. But for whatever reason, being a good person wasn’t enough to fill an emptiness he felt in his soul.
I think we often get caught up in being good people with good intentions and friendly and nice to everyone we meet, but there are times when being good is not enough and we need to have someone who can look past the surface of our good lives to the real issues that are at the bottom of our discontent. Maybe there are times when we think we’ve got it all together and can serenely go through life with a sense of satisfaction until we hit a bump that bewilders us. When we realize that our goodness is only skin deep.
Jesus challenged the young man with that very question. “Why call me good? Only God is good.” To be human is to be aware that we are not as good as we might like to think. That’s what confession is about. We do our best to be real, honest and truthful to who we are underneath all the surface stuff. We’re not afraid in church to say, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
As C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Many things—such as loving, going to sleep, or behaving unaffectedly—are done worst when we try hardest to do them.” Sometimes we have to stop focussing on what we are doing and look at how and why we are doing them.
The young man wanted a checklist of what to do. Instead, Jesus gave him an idea of how to be. Be wise with your possessions and let what you own benefit others and not only yourself. Don’t be a slave to your stuff or your bank account or your status or your Rsps or your Freedom 55 plan. Be intentional about all you have and do in terms of God’s vision for the world.
That’s not the most important thing about this story, though. The most important thing is that Jesus, our high priest, our two-edged sword, who can cut to the deepest soul sicknesses we have and carve them out of our lives like a piece of gristle on a turkey bone, looked this young man squarely in the eye and loved him. Just as he was. How many times have we spoken truth without love. How many times have we thought we knew all the truth but found out later we only had a piece of the truth and the people we were arguing with also had a piece of the truth. We do not own the truth, and we need to be humble when we think we know the truth. That kind of attitude too easily falls into arrogance and pride.
The truth is that life can hurt. Jesus also knew what it was like to suffer doubts and fears. The reason that the first few words of Psalm 22 sound so familiar is that we read them on Good Friday. They are among the last words Jesus spoke, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Or as the writer of Hebrews puts it, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.”
Jesus said that all things are possible with God, even a rich man can enter into the realm of God. I don’t know, but I like to think that the young man found his way. I wonder, because Paul, when he talked about himself, would sometimes say, “I know a certain man who had visions” when he wanted to talk about himself without appearing to brag. Who knows, maybe that certain young man was Mark himself! I like to think so, for them it means that even he, who thought it would be impossible to find faith by following Jesus, managed to do exactly that. May we all find our way into the realm of God by opening ourselves to the Loving Word who loves us no matter what.