Owned by possessions—Thirteenth Sunday of Luke

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God, Amen.

Elsewhere in Scripture, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes and the Lawyers, come to the Lord, we are told, “testing him.”  They want to see if he really understands the Law of God—not recognising him as the Lawgiver—or they have found a logical trap which they believe will ensnare him.  “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17) asks the Pharisees, “And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29) states the Lawyer, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36) riddles another, “in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be?” (Matthew 22:28) mock the Sadducees.

And I must ask myself carefully, “Am I testing the Lord?”  It is good to ask questions, to deepen our knowledge, to discover more about the living God: but do I ask to learn or do I ask to justify?  Are my questions as a disciple of the Master or as a test?

The ruler in today’s Gospel reading was not testing the Lord.  We discover elsewhere that he came running and knelt before the Lord to ask his question and that Christ “looking at him, loved him.” (see Mark 10:17–27)  “Good Teacher,” we, too, cry out along with the ruler, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And, in reply, the Lord says nothing about mere beliefs because to inherit eternal life it is about our actions in this life.  “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother.’”  These, written on the hearts of all humanity (see Romans 2:14–16), are what all should follow.  We know them, we follow them, and when we break them we know we have done wrong.

But the Christian life is different from living a moral, upright life according to the standards of this world.  The Lord offers to you and he offers to me an image of eternal life even now.  “All these I have observed from my youth,” says the ruler truthfully.  And we too may say the same, “I pay my share of taxes,” I can pride myself, “I follow the law and contribute to my society.”  But God has a greater task for all his disciples, you and me, that his Kingdom may come and his will be done as in the Heavens so also now upon the Earth (Matthew 6:10, Luke 11:2).  “One thing you still lack,” the Lord says to you and he says to me: “Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

And I baulk and I panic: I love my wealth and my possessions as did the ruler; he did not own his possessions, rather his possessions owned him.  And I, likewise, am owned and possessed by the objects with which I surround myself, I am enslaved to a number recorded at my bank.  And the Lord desires me to be free, not be owned by possessions.

Abraham had riches yet was not possessed by them, the criminal on the left of Christ had nothing yet blasphemed God (Luke 23:39).  The Lord does not champion poverty but freedom from possessions.  And if I feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned (see Matthew 25:31–46)—if I go beyond my mere moral obligations and societal niceties, then I too may inherit eternal life.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, do not let your possessions own you but look how you may serve, God first and then your neighbour, that we all may find ourselves free from what owns us and heirs of the Kingdom.

To our risen and glorified Saviour, Jesus Christ, be all glory, honour and might, together with his unoriginate Father and the All-holy, Good and Life-giving Spirit.  Amen.

Brethren, Christ is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
— Ephesians 2:14–22

At that time, a ruler came to Jesus and asked him, “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 but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ ” And he said, “All these I have observed from my youth.” And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. Jesus looking at him said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.
— Luke 18:18–27