Salvation is not a solely personal transaction between a person and God. “Give your life to Jesus and you will be saved,” says the preacher. “Hang on a minute,” says Jesus. Giving involves more than a mental determination. It means signing on to be part of Israel’s calling and mission. The mission of Israel is now the mission of the Church, and that mission is inexorably linked to the Cross. On the cross Jesus sacrificed himself. He died to everything he was, everything he thought, said, and did.
A rich young man asks Jesus how he might be saved. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish concept of salvation was communal. It involved the question of how one truly became part of God’s chosen people, and how one embraced the vocation and calling of this people. It was so easy to reduce that vocation to a legal formula, expressed in the Law. The Torah, the expanded code of duty and conduct based on the Ten Commandments, was the defining test, establishing whether one was a good child of the Law.
“You know the commandments,” Jesus says. The rich young man tells our Lord that he has kept all the commandments from his childhood onward. Notice Jesus does not delve into the veracity of such an impossible boast. He gives the young man the benefit of the doubt.
“You lack one thing; go sell all you have and give the money to the poor.” The young man left, sorrowing, because he owned a great deal. Jesus’ response did not add to the commandments, but went to the heart of them. Jesus’ command involved two aspects: giving up and giving to. These two aspects remain at the heart of Christian vocation today. The Church exists to continue Israel’s vocation. It is to be a light to nonbelievers as it glorifies God. As the Church lifts high the cross, it embraces sacrifice. It exists not for itself but for God and God’s world.
The Church’s mission is rooted in compassion and care for those who have nothing. To give is to give up, to surrender that which we value. We exist for that mission, for that suffering self-sacrifice. The hard part is the thought that our gift may be abused. Rather than take that risk, we justify hanging on to what we own and mutter about the undeserving poor. Salvation is God’s gift to us, as he pours his gifts lavishly into our undeserving lives. Jesus poured out his life for us on the cross. We do not deserve his sacrifice.
Peter reminds Jesus that he and the disciples have given up everything. Jesus reminds Peter and us that, although we give up that which we value most, in the fellowship of the Church we find everything replaced. But the sting is in the tail. It all comes with persecutions, with suffering.
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Look It Up
Read Heb. 4:12-16.
Think About It
“Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”