There’s nothing in the ten commandments that says you can’t
be rich, so why did Jesus make such a big deal about it? Why did he say that
it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man
to enter the reign of God? I’m sure you’ve all heard that the text is unclear
here and by the needle Jesus may have meant one of the gates of Jerusalem - or
the camel could be a nautical rope – however you read it, it’s still the same
picture – something thick or fat trying to squeeze through much too small a
It’s hard for a rich person to get into the reign of God.
We need to take that very seriously because even the poorest
person here is rich by the standards of the global community. We are among the
16% of the world’s population who are consuming 80% of the world’s resources.
And it’s difficult to stop.
I wonder what the rich man expected Jesus to say. He runs up
to him, kneels down and asks his big question, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal
life?" I wonder whether he felt that Jesus’ public words weren’t
sufficiently clear, whether he was looking for a special teaching just for him,
or whether he thought there was some hidden message that he had missed.
We often long for a special teaching, a hidden message. Each
Sunday we listen to the readings and we participate in the liturgy but still we
wonder, is this all there is? Isn’t there something more, some hidden path,
some hidden truth? That’s part of the attraction of books like The Da Vinci Code or the book some of us
are reading together on Tuesday nights, The
Meaning of Mary Magdalene.
The Christian mystics offer us glimpses into a deeper, more
intense contemplative path, but whether it’s the interior castle
or the bridal chamber of the apocryphal Gospel of Philip, every Christian
teacher and mystic is just expounding what it truly means to love God with our
whole selves and our neighbors as ourselves. That is at the root of every path
to God. That is the riverbed.
So why is it so difficult for a rich person to get into the
reign of God?
I think it’s for the same reason that a millionaire I once
worked with always made sure to get the exact change when he took a cab. He
always made sure he had what was his, down to the last penny.
The rich man of the gospel reading was unable to give away
what he had. He was holding on to it. We can’t come into the reign of God with
our hands clenched shut, holding tightly onto what is “ours.” We can’t come
into the reign of God holding tightly to anything, because the very essence of
God is to have open hands. The very essence of God is open hands.
We open our hands when we greet someone else. We open our
hands in gestures of welcome, of hospitality. We open our hands to caress. We
open our hands to give, and also to receive.
That is the secret teaching. God is radically free and we
too were created to be free but we constantly weigh ourselves down by holding
on, by keeping our hands tightly closed. We hold on to grudges, we hold on to
old patterns, we hold on to stuff, we hold on to those we love. Holding on
stops the flow of energy.
When I was in my twenties there was a popular spiritual
saying, “If you love something let it go – if it’s yours it’ll come back.” Good
advice, but hard to keep especially when you’re in your twenties and searching
for a mate. It wasn’t long before a poster appeared which said, “If you love
something let it go – if it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it!”
If you love something, let it go – that’s exactly what the
rich man couldn’t do.
I want to be very clear that when I talk about letting go of
what you love, I’m not talking about a cold detachment. I don’t for a moment
think that having open hands means not passionately loving, not making deep attachments
to other sentient beings – to people or companion animals. But I do think it
means coming to a place in yourself where you are so at peace and so confident
in God’s incredible and abundant love that you don’t have to cling.
When we have open hands we can allow other people to be
fully themselves and to make their own journey through the world to become the
Christ-like beings they were created to be. When we have open hands we are open
to the flow of God’s abundant love in and through us. When we have open hands
we can give generously and remain confident that all is well.
I think this is the way we truly experience God’s abundance
-- in having open hands which can both receive and give generously. There are
those among us who have taken the adage “it is more blessed to give than to
receive” to heart and who close their hands to the gifts of love that others
would give them. Some of us have been wounded early in life and find it
difficult to trust, or even to know that we are loved. It is as though the
hands of our hearts have been slapped so many times that we have closed them in
There are others who are caught in the fear of scarcity. The
fear that if I don’t hold on tightly to what is mine then it will be taken from
me and I won’t get anything more. There won’t be enough to go round. But the
reality is that when we live with open hands, we are receiving even as we are
giving and the flow of God’s resources moves through us, blessing us and all
It is not easy for a rich man or woman to enter the reign of
God, but it is certainly not impossible. For God all things are possible.
We will be gathering again this morning at the table of God,
to participate in the banquet which she prepares for us. Between now and then
we will be preparing ourselves to receive that great outpouring of love which
is symbolized in the eucharist. Let us use this as a time to practice opening
the hands of our hearts.
As we respond to the proclamation of God’s word by affirming
our faith, let us open to the truth of our connection and trust in God;
as we pray for others let us do so with an attitude of open
as we make our confession let us be especially aware of the
times we have held back, the times we have held on;
as we exchange a sign of God’s peace with one another let us
practice allowing each other to be -- being especially careful not to honor
those who only wish to shake hands;
and then in our offertory let us offer ourselves to God,
asking that we may learn to give generously with open hands to the work of God’s
reign and to his people throughout the world.