Every once in a while, Liz and I will decide on this day at this time we will clear out and pass on things in the house that we no longer need but are still of some use. This is familiar to many of us, the annual clearing the clutter that seems to gather all by itself. For us this can be a long drawn out process as we pull out each item and decide if it goes into the “keep”, “good will” or “recycling/garbage” pile. It is amazing just how many things hold meaning for us either of sentimental value - which basically means we can never give it away, or the classic logic of, “well we may still be able to use that.” Overlooking of course the fact that we haven’t used that item in over a year. Somehow, some way we do manage to sort through and pass on many things.
During and after this process a couple of things happen. Firstly, it feels good to sort through and declutter. We feel better about ourselves and the house. There is more space to store and find items that were once buried deep in a draw or closet. The second thing that happens is that we don’t miss the stuff we pass on. Once treasured items now passed on almost immediately fade from the conscience and are no longer missed.
This is a process that I am sure many of us can relate to and have experienced. There are of course some for whom this is a natural and easy process. If it is not needed, it is passed on as easy as that. But for others this is hard. We love the stuff in our lives. For better or worse we are surrounded with messages on the school yard, the grocery store, TV and online media that having more is better and is a measure of our success in the world. This is a hard trend to go against. Inevitably at some point or another we all give in to the temptation of yet one more item that can change our life or may prove its use at some future date yet unknown.
Jesus in today’s gospel challenges the notion of stuff and material wealth head on. A ‘rich man’ comes to Jesus with the best of intentions. He has done everything right according to the law and the temple. He has been a faithful worshiper, he tithes, and he loves God. All this he does in the certain hope that he will qualify, make the cut, to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Everything he does is to secure his seat in the Kingdom. So, he comes to Jesus, just to make sure he has covered all his basis and hasn’t left anything out. We can sense and feel the man’s anxiety as he comes to Jesus with his check list of all that he has done right.
Jesus feels for the man deeply and acknowledges that he has indeed been faithful in every way to the letter. He has done everything right except for one thing. Jesus then asks the impossible and tells the man to go and sell everything. . . This is the one thing he cannot do, at least not yet. The man, like so many of us, loves his possessions. He enjoys the status and measure of success that his material wealth brings him. This is, for the man, the ultimate sacrifice, and the price may be just a little too high. Go and sell everything. I wonder how we would respond if Jesus asked us to sell everything to inherit the Kingdom of God.
But that is exactly what Jesus asks of us today. The thing is, as I have mentioned before, this really shouldn’t be a difficult task. It isn’t difficult because, we know that everything we have - and that means everything - belongs to God. It is not ours to begin with. Now hold that thought for a moment. How easy is it to get rid of other people’s stuff? How many of us have helped friends and family move? How many of us have helped others sort through stuff that needs to go into the “good will” or “recycling/garbage” pile? It is way easier to do that for someone else than it is to do for us and our stuff. The emotional ties are not there in the same way. So, if the stuff at our respective homes, is not ours but God’s, surely, we are only helping God sort through those things that need to be passed on. I wonder how we would respond if Jesus asked us to sell everything. I wonder how much of that stuff we would really miss.
The deeper meaning in today’s gospel is not only about deciding what to do about our material wealth. We need to go through all that to discover what really is important in our lives and in today’s Gospel. Once we have gotten over the stuff in our lives we realize what remains are our relationships and the people in our lives. This is what really should matter and is what matters deeply to God. Intellectually we know that we can easily replace books, furniture and all the other material goods in our lives. It is far harder, and in fact, can be near impossible to replace the relationships in our lives. Without caring and nurturing the people and relationships in our lives and community we may find that once they have gone, they can never be returned in the same way. People and our relationships with one another are priceless.
This is where we can learn a lot from our pets. This is in part why we have them in our lives and why it is important to honor and bless our relationship with them in church. Our pets teach us that our relationships are what really matter. It never ceases to amaze me that the smallest, most insignificant toy or sock can bring about hours of fun especially to a puppy. Regardless of what kind of day we have had, what we got done or not, our pets never fail to pour out their affection and love to us. They teach us, that the Kingdom of Heaven is not about the number of possessions we can accumulate, but rather the amount of unconditional love that we share in our lives and how we nurture the relationships in our lives.