keeping a secret between you and God alone

Jesus talked about keeping one’s good works and sacrifice between one’s self and God, not letting others know, as if for show (see Matthew 6). For me, engaging in liturgy, especially liturgical services such as Ash Wednesday is relatively new. Father Michael Cupp at our Ash Wednesday service this past week pointed something out which hit home to me, a new thought in its context. Simply put, that we should not be concerned, but even happy if the ashes into the form of the cross on our foreheads is covered by our hair, though in Michael and my own case, we have no (or not enough) hair to cover it. The point was that even over something I might be enthusiastic about, which I like to share, it is good to keep between myself and God as far as my actual practice of it is concerned. Of course I can share with others in answer to their questions, or even beyond that if I think I’m led to do so. But it is on the safe side to work on keeping acts of righteousness hidden, between us and God, lest we fall into the sin of wanting to be seen by others as good and righteous, the old way of putting it, pious.

What we do and don’t do does end up mattering much more than we could imagine. We may think something bad we’re doing in secret is okay, but God sees it, and it does impact us and through that, others, in ways we little realize, or in fact don’t understand at all. In the same way the good we do before God as those in grace devoted to him will end up being part of God’s good work in the world. Whereas when we do it with ulterior motives, to be noted by others, then that reward is all we have, and if God uses it, it will be inspite of that.

And so, just as we know that all we do has meaning only in reference to God, but out from that, for everything, we go on in our Lord Jesus. As we look forward to the day when everything will be done out of sheer joy and love with no danger of empty show.

what the rich young ruler missed

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

This is an interesting story, told in the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. A ruler falls on his knees before Jesus and asks what good thing he should do to inherit eternal life. I take the words of Jesus as well as that of the ruler here at face value. I don’t import on them my understanding of what an evangelistic gospel presentation should look like. The summons here is to a king and a kingdom come in him. A completely different kingdom than those of the world or what Israel anticipated. Of course more needed to take place, namely Jesus’ death and resurrection followed by his ascension and the pouring out of the Spirit along with the promise of his return. But what is in the gospels is essential to understanding the agenda which is set. Which has been all but lost by the church at large through the centuries. Evident in that the creeds make no passing mention of it.

Yes, Jesus’ call was costly. Sell everything, all his vast wealth and give to the poor. The giving to the poor is not at all surprising, but as we gather from Jesus’ own disciples from what they said afterward and Jesus’ follow up to that, the idea that a rich person should give up their wealth, or at least the idea that it is hard for the rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven because they are so tied to their wealth, as if material prosperity could be antithetical to the kingdom of God did not ring true to the disciples themselves.

The young man’s face fell. He went away deeply sad, since he had great possessions. Doing what Jesus said for him was not an option. Impossible. An illustration of Jesus’ words that it is indeed hard for the rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven. As Jesus intimates, impossible apart from God.

But think of what this ruler missed: Besides the treasure in heaven, actually being a follower on the ground of Jesus himself. Becoming one who could learn what it means to live in the new way in him, the way of the cross, the way of resurrection life. Above all to know Jesus, and to know God through Jesus which amounts to eternal life (John 17). He missed so much. And for what? What ends up being a mess of pottage when it’s all said and done. Maybe worldly glory which comes and goes. But not the glory which comes from God. We don’t want glory to ourselves, indeed that is not fitting. What is meant here is to live in God’s favor by his grace, completely a gift in and through Jesus.

May we have ears to hear the call and a heart to follow.