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Mar 23 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 19, 2017 – Luke 18:18-23

Is There Still Something Missing?

A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'”
And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”
When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Luke 18:18-23

Intro: Today it will be easy for you to get what I have to say

My goal is that you remember only one line
– I will let you know what that line is when we come to it
• first, we are introduced to a ruler who came with a question
• there is no reason to think he was not sincere
◦ we can assume he really wanted eternal life,
◦ he was willing to do anything to have it, and he believed Jesus had the answer
– but what did he expect Jesus to give him?
• something not already taught by the Rabbis?
◦ a secret known only to enlightened masters?
• did he have any idea Lord’s answer would not be safe?
◦ or gentle? that it would shake the foundation of his blessed life?
◦ that Jesus was about to ruin him?

Jesus’ initial response probably sounded too easy

You know the commandment . . .

In fact, reading this passage I imagine the disappointment in the ruler’s response
– “Is that all there is to it? I’ve done all that stuff since I was a kid”
• but so far, he had only come to the first test – the basics
• just as he was feeling that he may have asked the wrong person,
◦ the easy road disappeared
◦ what Jesus said next, he had never even considered

One thing you still lack

– when Jesus tells him what he must do, it doesn’t sound like he lacked one thing
• rather, he already had too many things
◦ He could not fit through the narrow door of the kingdom with all that stuff
• however, his possessions were evidence that something still missing

There is a positive way to interpret what Jesus told him:
– “There’s only one more thing you have to do”
• but stated either way–negative or positive–God and wealth are two things
◦ he had to choose only one
◦ this was not the only place Jesus stressed the crossroads

No one can serve two master; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon (Mt. 6:24)

• there, Jesus used a word that personified wealth, Mammon, the god of money
◦ we make gods of all sorts of things
◦ Jesus also suggested that this tension between God and our gods, is the source of our anxieties (Mt. 6:25-34)
– the ruler would not be able to divide his devotion between both
• if he could not give up his wealth for God, he could not have God

Jesus does not require every wealthy person to make choice

But everyone has to make a similar choice
– so this is not a position in which only the wealthy find themselves
• and for everyone, it will always come down to one thing
• for the ruler, it was the one thing he had accumulated over a lifetime
– his wealth was not the problem
• it was his attachment to his riches and possessions
◦ his attachment to whatever they did for him
◦ the power or status – they made others notice him
• for us it may be our attachment to money or things
◦ or our ability to manipulate others, or a position
◦ or a resentment, or a self-soothing habit

I think it is natural for us, when faced with the decision
– to become very sad in the same way as the ruler
• perhaps this is the reason Jesus emphasized the one thing,
◦ he knew the difficulty we have in letting go
• when the choice is put to us, we discover how deep our attachment
– of course, we don’t have to feel the sting of what the Lord requires
• we can habitually look the other way
◦ turn up the volume on our music
• there is no need to reject what he says outright
◦ we can dissolve it with logical rationalizations
◦ we can deafen ourselves in church, with worship, and sermons on the ten commandments
– but then, we never should have asked about eternal life in the first place

My last conversation with Romuald

A quiet late afternoon as shadows slowly filled his room–it felt holy
– he said something out of blue, as if suddenly inspired
“Of course, the virtues are fundamental for spiritual direction”
• he recommended Sr. Mary Margaret Funk’s book, Thoughts Matter
◦ I read it — then, when Jim mentioned her book, Lectio Matters I read that

In it she says that  “Lectio divina is an encounter with God.” She explains that we are equipped with the mental and spiritual faculties to discern the four voices of the text:
• we hear the literal voice with our logical mind
• we hear the symbolic voice with our intuitive soul
• we hear the moral voice with our heart
• we hear the mystical voice with our spirit
“The moral voice … dictates action to root out sin, to refrain from self-indulgence, or even evil deeds … to shift the mind toward God”

• the goal is not to generate warm thoughts about God
◦ but to be in God’s presence, contemplating him (the one thing David desired, Ps. 27:4)
– in elaborating on the encounter with God, Sr. Funk says,

“There’s no need to work on the mystical dimension if the moral voice is heeded. The mystical springs up when purity of heart emerges.”

• I reacted to that statement – it struck me as if we earned the illumination of God
◦ after all, she is a nun and at times seems to be stringent reregarding the rules
• but I wasn’t able to maintain that attitude
◦ my favorite beatitude came to mind and I knew she was right

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Mt. 5:8)

◦ the real reason I reacted was because God was working on me
◦ my heart had been divided for a long time

There is a spiritual exercise I sometimes practice

The purpose of it is to increase my awareness of God’s nearness

I revisit a childhood experience of God
– it was breathtaking – God was right there with nothing between us (no wall or barrier)
• so Sr. Funk’s statement had me wondering,
“When only a child, was I pure in heart when God revealed himself to me?”
• I am Nicodemus asking how a person could possibly go back,

Me: “Do I have to regress to infancy? Must I shrivel back into a fetal state and wait for the contractions to begin?”
Jesus: “No. However, you do have to become as a child. You do have to be pure in heart”

– purity of heart is:
devotion to one thing
◦ when I first heard about taking time for “recollection” before prayer, I thought it meant to draw together all my thoughts about God
◦ but what it means is to bring all my thoughts about everything to a central point and focus my concentration there — on Jesus
all your heart (Deut. 6:4-5; Jer. 29:13), it is when the heart is all-in
to direct your heart to Lord (1 Sam. 7:3)
◦ it is the removal of anything that competes with God, opposes him or distracts from him

My heart’s deepest longing is to see God
– to experience him as I did when eternity entered a moment and infinity filled my soul
• infinite love, infinite acceptance, infinite kindness

Conc: So this is the one line you must remember this week,

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God

We have heard a Christian say, regarding some activity or indulgence, “This is my one vice”
– usually they are referring to something banal, like chocolate, cigarettes, or “The Bachelorette”
• the statement suggests that we are all allowed one vice
◦ but Jesus is serious and there’s no use trying to bargain
I have said, “Lord! You don’t mean I have to give up that? It is a legitimate activity”
His answer has been, “Not for you”
• so I have decided to be as serious as Jesus about purity of heart
– so what happens if I give up that one thing?
Jesus becomes everything
◦ then there is nothing left for me but to follow him and see God
• Evelyn Underhill wrote of a “double movement” in purification
◦ our desire reaches up and God’s grace bends down

So I leave you with the question that God has put to me:
Have I found what that one thing is? The missing piece?
If so, am I ready to surrender it – and see God?


Leave a comment
  1. Bill Livingston / Mar 23 2017

    The One thing for me…..the purity of heart……the missing piece that removes the last barrier between me and the Father? To believe that Jesus’ death on the cross removes the barrier between me and the Father. I cannot add anything. I must give up my need to earn a freely given gift. I cannot return the favor. I must accept it with joy…rejoicing in the Lord always….and again I say rejoice.

  2. Bill Livingston / Mar 25 2017

    I think another aspect is also possible in this complex interchange between Jesus and the rich man. I suggest that Jesus is responding to the hint that he is asking, With all my riches and power, what can I do to deserve eternal life? Jesus responds by asking him to do something that–for him–is impossible. This interpretation is suggested by the response of Jesus to his disciples’ question, Then who can be saved? He answers, With man it is impossible. With God all things are possible.

  3. Chuck Smith, Jr. / Mar 25 2017

    Bill, I fully agree. In fact, I believe that is why Jesus first responded to his request by drawing attention to his form of address, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” Notice that Jesus does not expect an answer from him, but goes right on talking. (My guess is that the ruler was caught off guard and would not be able to produce an answer anyway, other than say something like, “Uh, Teacher, it was just a customary polite form of address.”)

    So why did Jesus ask him the question? I think he is making a point; namely, only God is good so whatever he think he can “do” to inherit eternal life, it would not have anything to do with doing something that was good enough. There has to be another way. And as you pointed out, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” It is possible, then, that God is good enough to bring us into eternal life in spite of ourselves.

  4. Bill Livingston / Mar 27 2017

    It is possible.

    Thank you, Chuck.

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