Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
When I was a pastoral intern in Nebraska, we gave a Bible to each third grader on a particular Sunday. The Bible is a good gift; it’s a source of hope, love, encouragement, inspiration, and life. I told the congregation: pay attention. We are giving children a knife. As we heard this morning from the letter to the Hebrews: “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow.”
Scripture is sharper than a sword. Like a scalpel, it cuts through what is diseased and damaged, cuts through lies and confusion, cuts through the stories we tell ourselves to reveal the truth. The stories of scripture surprise, disturb, confound and with good intention cut. We and our children need help and practice to listen, to receive powerful, sharp, healing words of life.
Consider today’s gospel text. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What must I do? I can do it, earn it, achieve it, succeed and be safe. Just tell me what to do.
Keep the commandments, Jesus says. You know them.
Oh yes, I keep those, he says. I do that. I follow the law to the letter.
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Jesus sees the person, loves the one behind the question, the one confused yet yearning. “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; the come, follow me. When he heard this, he went away shocked and grieving, for he had many possessions.” You lack one thing: you are grasping your gods. You are possessed by possessions. Let go. Cut to the core, he went away.
If only Jesus stopped there, but “Jesus look around and said, … ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’” It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. It’s easier for an ocean to be contained a bottle.
What? With the disciples, we’re confused. Wealth enables doing good and doing more rigorous religious ritual like in the purity codes. Wealth is a sign of God’s favor, is it not?
No, says Jesus. No, says the prophet Amos. The law is not simply about not stealing. God also says don’t defraud. Beware you who “trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain” … “who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.” What you have, what you seem to control, will be taken away from you.
Astounded, the disciples ask: “Then who can be saved? Jesus looked at them” —with love I believe—and said, “For mortals it is impossible.” For mortals it is impossible! “… but not for God; for God, all things are possible.”
Do you want security, certainty, control? There’s not a checklist beyond one: surrender. Let go. If this seems shocking, it’s worse. It’s impossible. We can’t surrender on our own. You can’t save yourself. So says the surgeon who cuts through our pious questions and disordered attachments, says the Savior of the world.
Scripture convicts us, reveals what we lack, where we need to die. Jesus, the very Word of God, sees us as we are. Jesus looks with love and speaks piercing words.
Jesus welcomes interruptions and takes all kinds of questions. What must I do? What does this mean? Who are you? Ask your question. Speak your words. Be as you are now, and then receive. See loving eyes behold you and hear words that may pierce your soul. What is Jesus’ invitation? What does Jesus say to you? You lack one thing. You are possessed by … . Let go. Give it away. Forgive. Surrender. Come.
Jesus’ words may be surprising, confusing, or confounding for they “reveal the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Revealing, for we find ourselves “naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”
This revelation is safe and good. We humans often hit each other with words, sometimes scripture, in order to hurt. Revelation by scripture is sacred. We are laid bare in order to heal. Jesus is our companion and mediator who sympathizes with our weakness.
What does God say to you that’s inviting, surprising, or disturbing? What cuts you to the core? Perhaps it’s about wealth, power, possessions or control, your own plans and expectations. Perhaps it’s about sickness, loss, diminishment or disillusionment.
Holding onto what God says to you, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Grace abounds including in surrender and death.
Pay attention as you read scripture with children and one another. Words of life may come as a knife, cutting open to reveal. Jesus, our Good Physician and Savior, seeks to heal.
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