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Treasure in Heaven

 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Mark 10:21

In this story from Mark, a man asks Jesus what he must do to enter heaven. The man says he has kept all the commandments since his youth. Jesus says the man still lacks one thing – he must sell everything he owns and give the money to the poor. “When he heard this, (the man) was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” (Mark 10:22).

This story is interesting and discouraging. First, the man believed that following the commandments was what was required to enter heaven (as if we could earn our way into that state of grace). Turns out, he was wrong. I daresay, many of us today believe the same thing. Entering heaven is not about following rules, however, but about following the person of Christ, as modeled by Jesus of Nazareth. Following the commandments may be the result of our commitment to follow Christ, but they are not an end to themselves. In other words, the rules are not the goal; the behavior is the goal.

A second point, discouraging for many of us, is that we cannot have treasure on earth and treasure in heaven, at least not at the same time. To the extent that our possessions possess and encumber us, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Our attachment to earthly things binds us away from the freedom to follow Christ with our whole being. When we devote our time and resources to caring for and adding to our stuff, we cannot devote the time and resources available to us to serve others. Serving others in need was the sole focus of Jesus’ life on earth. We cannot devote ourselves to two different and mutually exclusive causes at the same time. We must make a choice – one or the other. In the story, the man is shocked and grieved because he had many possessions. So am I, because so do I.

A third interesting and perplexing aspect of this story is that Jesus is NOT talking about heaven as a destination after this life is over. Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven as a present reality. The concept of heaven as an after-death destination is a relatively recent theological interpretation. Jesus says things like, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and “The kingdom of heaven is near.” In the current story, Jesus indicates that once the man sells his possessions and gives the money to the poor, at that time he will have “treasure in heaven.” The man is then to go to Jesus and follow him. It is all present life.

The more I carefully study Jesus, the more I realize he is hard-core about serving the less fortunate. I fear we soften his message in order to allow ourselves to feel holier. Most of us in the West make up the wealthiest of the world’s citizens at any time in history. We live well beyond what is required to sustain our lives comfortably. While there is nothing unholy about living a comfortable life, the countless brothers and sisters across the globe lacking the most basic necessities to sustain life should at least concern us. Jesus gave everything he had, including his life, so others could live. Does entering heaven require us to do the same? Of course, our physical death will force the release of our material attachments. Our decision is whether to wait for death before releasing at least some of them.

Make no mistake, I have no plans to sell everything I own and give it to the poor. It is proof that I pray with one eye open, not fully trusting in God’s provision for me. My challenge, and I believe yours, too, is to consciously consider my options with the resources I have at my disposal; if not all, then at least some. If I choose to buy another guitar, making me happy for a time, I simultaneously withhold resources that could relieve the suffering of another for a time. It is my choice. The story of the rich man in Mark is our story. One way to heaven is to keep both eyes closed in prayer – trusting in God – but both eyes open to the needs of those around us.

This is the 3rd in the series of Life Notes titled, Praying With One Eye Open.

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