In 1994 the movie The Shadow was produced. It was based on the radio program of the same name. I enjoyed the movie but it did not win any Oscars. Towards the end there is a scene in which a large bomb was ready to go off. If this bomb explodes it will obliterate New York City and all its inhabitants. In order to disarm the bomb one had to clip one of the two wires a red and a green running from the timer. The green wire had to be clipped for the bomb to be disarmed. In the movie, the fellow with wire clippers was color blind and he couldn’t tell which wire was green and which was red. But he had to make a choice. He chooses the wrong wire and instead of hours before the bomb blows now there are minutes. This is sort of dilemma is fairly common in action movies. Towards the end of the movie there is a right move or a wrong move to make. The wrong move has serious repercussions. The right move will be a life-saver. Do this one thing and you will live. Do it wrong and you will die or at least suffer. In one of the Indiana Jones movies, The Last Crusade, the bad guy has to choose the Holy Grail out from among many chalices. If he chooses the right Grail then his mortal body will never die. So he chooses a chalice and after he drinks water out of the cup, he then proceeds to age very fast so that in moments all his hair turns white and then falls out and his skin shrivels up and falls off. And then he crumples into bones which then turn into dust. The old knight who is watching turns to Indiana Jones and calmly said, “He has chosen poorly.” It is all about choices—wise choices or poor choices.
Making right choices is what our gospel reading is about today. The young man comes up to Jesus and asks him what do I do to inherit eternal life? I want you to notice a couple of things. First Jesus is starting out on a journey. The young man knows he is starting out because he is running to catch him. This whole conversation is in a rush. The situation is similar to when you are doing something and someone comes up and says, “I know you are busy, but…” Would you just tell me where such and such is? Or I know you are doing something else but would you please give me a quick hand doing this? He is interrupting and he coming at an inopportune time but he doesn’t think he doesn’t think the answer is going to take too long. After all, he just wants to know what it is that he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Can you tell me in 10 seconds or less? Can you give me the spiritual insight that has consumed the lives of holy men through the ages; can you give it to me in a sentence or two? I know you are busy, I can appreciate that—I don’t need much of your time. Just tell me briefly what I need to do to inherit eternal life.
So what how does Jesus respond? “You know the commandments, do not murder, commit adultery, and so on.” Why does Jesus say this? Remember when Nicodemus comes to talk with him Jesus tells him that God sent his Son into the world to save the world that anyone who believes in him would have eternal life. Or when he is talking to crowd after the feeding of the 5000 he tells them this is the work God has given them to do, to believe in Him whom he has sent; they need to do this in order to receive eternal life. So what is going on here? Jesus is responding in kind to this young man. The guy doesn’t have any time for Jesus—he really only wants a rubber stamp for his life. He is expecting Jesus to tell him, “Hey, everything is fine! You are doing a great job! Just keep it up!” So Jesus says in essence, you already know the answers don’t you? Follow the commandments. The young man says, “Oh yeah, I have been doing all that stuff. I have been really good all my life!” He is expecting an ‘Atta boy.’ He is anticipating Jesus telling him, “Well then, you have it made in the shade.”
We need to understand this guy is not a bad guy. He is trying really hard to be good. He hasn’t killed anyone. He hasn’t committed adultery. He hasn’t stolen anything. He does not lie about his neighbors. He has not defrauded anyone. He honors his mom and dad. He consciously is trying to do these things and keep track of them. It appears he has a sincere heart. And apparently he has been working at this since his youth. Jesus looks at him and we are told that he loves him. Jesus stops walking; turns around and looks at this young man and gives him his attention. The journey is now on hold. Jesus looks at the young man and loves him.
So the young man sees Jesus stop. He sees Jesus look at him. He sees the love Jesus has for him. And he is thinking, “All right!” He is waiting for his ‘Atta boy.’ But Jesus doesn’t give him that. Jesus says, “There is just one thing you lack.” You are doing great, kid—you just need one more thing. Now here we expect Jesus to say, “Believe in the Son of Man or something like that.” But he does not. Instead Jesus tells him to go back home and then sell everything you have and then give the money away to the poor. And then after you have taken care of selling everything and giving all the proceeds away, then come back, completely and utterly without anything and follow me.
Just one more thing, which is all you need to inherit eternal life, just the one small thing. Jesus does tell him the same thing he tells the others. It is the same message that he gave Nicodemus—that whoever believes will have eternal life. It is the same message as he told the crowd that this is the work that God gives us to do to get eternal life—believe in the one whom God has sent. But with this young man he pointed out specifically what it was this man believed in right now. This man’s heart was in his wealth. He was a good guy. He liked being a good guy. But in terms of the Ten Commandments he was breaking number one—do not have any other gods before me. This young man’s god was his wealth. In order to have eternal life he needs to completely get rid of the god he now is serving and trusting, that is, his wealth and instead of his wealth he needs to turn to and believe in Jesus. But he would only be able to do to truly trust in Jesus if he was unable to trust in his wealth.
And so what happens; how does he choose? He does not choose wisely—he chooses poorly. Like the color blind guy, he clips the wrong wire. This story is here as a warning for us. What are we going to choose? Will we choose wisely or poorly? Eternal life is in the balance. It is important to remember Jesus did not tell this young man to do this because he hated him or wanted him to be unhappy. We are told Jesus loved him. He loves us! He wants us, just like he wanted this young man to be filled with all the love of God—but this man’s money was in the way.
What about you—what about me? We say that we trust in Jesus. But, in reality what do we trust in, what do we think is the most important? Frankly, the easiest ways to tell if our money is an idol like it was for this young man is whether or not we are able to tithe our money. Are we able give at least 10% of our income back to God? Or is that too hard to give 10 percent of our money back to God? If it is too hard, that is a good indication that money has too strong a hold on our lives just like it did for this young man.
It is about choices. At the end of our lives when we look back, will we have chosen wisely or poorly? May God help us to choose wisely. Amen