You Lack One Thing



Jesus, looking at the young man, loved him

and said, “You lack one thing.”


In today’s Gospel, a man with many possessions encountered Jesus.

His wealth of possessions is central to the message.


Possessions – are they good or bad?

Blessings or hindrances?

Deficits or potential assets?


Like many aspects of life, it all depends.


But, perhaps, the more important questions are:

What is this Gospel story all about?

How does Jesus use the possessions

to teach his disciples about God?


How can possessions or anything else

make all the difference in our seeking ultimate answers

about the meaning of our lives?


The man with many possessions started off with a question:

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”


He was looking for an inheritance –

not a gift or a payment or an allowance or a reward –

but an inheritance.


The Greek word quoted by Mark

seems to convey exactly what it does to us.


Did the man with many possessions see himself

as a child of God who was due a birthright

like one might expect from a parent?


Yet, the dialogue that followed his question

seems more like an exercise in earning something

rather than inheriting it.


Whatever the case,

the young man wanted Jesus to tell him how

to secure the benefits of God’s most fundamental values –

and to find the key to

a meaningful, contented, and fulfilling life.


Jesus’ initial response to

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

is also quite interesting.


Referring to the Ten Commandments,

like he did in last week’s Gospel lesson,

Jesus offered a list of what the man had to do to qualify.


But when the man with many possessions

testified to his lifelong practice of

following the commandments,

Jesus sought to provoke in him, as he provokes in us,

in a whole new level of understanding

about eternal life with God.


With love for the young man, the Lord said,

“You lack one thing; go, sell what you own,

and give the money to the poor,

and you will have treasure in heaven;

then come, follow me.”


Here’s a shocker for you:

Eternal life does not mean life until the end of time.


It is not about quantity, but quality.

A phrase that I utilize when having difficult conversations

with people who are facing death.


Eternal life means a deep connection

with the ageless and invincible values

of the Kingdom of God.


Eternal life describes the quality of relationship

between human beings and Christ,

bringing us into a present knowledge and experience

with the loving and living spirit of God.


As we consider our Lord’s encounter

with the man of many possessions,

we can imagine Jesus’ insight into his heart and soul.


The young man had followed the specific, outward regulations

that were spelled out in the Bible –

but Jesus perceived that something still blocked him

from total obedience to God –

his many possessions.


Material belongings stood in the way of his following Christ,

because, having heard Jesus’ opinion

that he needed to give them up,

he went away shocked and grieving,

stunned and defeated –

perhaps with a broken heart.


He could not meet the ultimate measure of obedience to God.


His love of possessions

blocked him from totally loving God

and following Christ.


Many scholars are quick to say

that this is not necessarily a teaching by Jesus

against a Christian’s having material possessions,

in whatever quantity.


They remind us that the crisis for the man with many possessions

was not how much he owned,

but that the property owned him,

blocking his way to unity with God.


Thinking about such views

is a necessary beginning for each of us to examine,

in our own lives,

the relevance of today’s Gospel story.


Would Jesus have said to another person,

“One thing you lack,”

and then listed something quite different

from selling possessions and

giving the income to the poor?


What does Jesus say to you and to me –

about the one thing more that we lack?


What do we need to give up,

to rid ourselves of,

to put behind us,

that would allow us completely to follow Christ?


What can blind us and deafen us from connecting with God?


What is the radical reorientation of our lives

that will lead us to follow Christ?


What is it that stands in the way of our becoming

what God intends us to be?


It is almost certainly selfishness of one sort or another –

because putting ourselves first

puts God second or third.


Because we do this, we become separated from the Holy Spirit’s resources.


What is it that we need to give up

in order to gain what is much more valuable?


Is it greed or prejudice –

ignorance or pride –

anger or the need to control others,

the inability to acknowledge our sins of hurting others

or the “things we have left undone”

or something else?


Or is it, after all,

a love of possessions that stand in our way of

connecting with the eternal life

that we can find only in God?


Is the fate of the man with many possessions

our fate as well?


Is what stood in his way the thing that stands in our way,

preventing us from totally connecting with God

and following Christ?


We live in a culture of materialism

in which we measure too much in monetary terms.


We are inundated day after day,

hour after hour, by advertising

that insists that if we buy one thing or another

that we will be happier and better off.


The push for more and more material possessions

insinuates itself into our lives constantly.


For the majority of us who are not impoverished –

for those who do not live with severely limited resources,

this is a question we must examine.


An Anglican bishop from Africa

once declared to an American audience

that it was much easier for the Christians of his diocese

to truly know God than

for those living in the United States.


This is so, he stated,

because most in his diocese are very poor

and that condition leads them to know

the need for God in every way.


This is so, because their prospects of becoming rich

are so remote that they focus on deeper,

more spiritual values.


Americans in contrast, he suggested,

have a chance to gain nearly every material possession they want.


So, we often become convinced,

at least subconsciously, that we can buy happiness and meaning.

This delusion can leave us void of the

lasting, deep-down joy

that possessions cannot bring.


But the final point I want to leave with you this morning is,

it seems ironic that the young man with many possessions

asked about “inheriting” eternal life.


The truth is, he had already inherited it – as a child of God.


The God-relationship-within-him existed

as a part of the created order –

because he, like each of us,

was created in the image and likeness of God.


He had inherited God’s spirit already – he just didn’t know it.


Jesus tried to open him to understanding that reality –

to instruct him how to break through

what blocked him from recognizing and utilizing

the very spirit of God that

he only had to put before all else in his life.


What must we do, what must we give up,

in order to recognize and put to use

the eternal life that each of us has inherited?


Remember that you were born into this life naked with no possessions.

You will leave this life the same way.


As Pericles stated,

“What you leave behind

is not what is engraved on stone monuments,

but what is woven into the lives of others.”

Amen.

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