For most families I suppose there is that three-word phrase uttered when parents part ways with their children, “I love you.” But for the Hannons two words sufficed. “Be good,” my parents would say just about any time they dropped us off or saw us walk out the door for something. They hung in the air as a warning with two other unspoken words in tow: Or else. Being good was imperative in the Hannon house (and sometimes we were, and other times we weren’t), but it was always the expectation. Anyone else have parents like that?
I can think of at least one other guy. He’s the guy who races up to Jesus in the gospel of Mark (chapter 10) and asks, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds, “You know the commandments.” To which the man replies, “I’ve kept them since my youth.” This guy was really good at being good. He honored his parents. He didn’t murder or steal or commit adultery or covet. He kept those commandments since he was a kid, and if anything was good enough to inherit eternal life, surely that was it. Unless, of course, inheriting eternal life isn’t about being good enough.
Jesus looked at the man and loved him. He said, “You lack only one thing: Go, sell what you have and give the money to the poor, and then come and follow me.” But when the man heard it he was shocked and grieved for he a lot of stuff.
Sometimes when we think about heaven, we make God out to be our cosmic parent who’s booting us out of the womb with the instruction/warning, “Be good or else.” But if that were all God were after, the man in the gospel reading I referenced before might have had a happier ending. No, God desires more from us than our best behavior. God desires faithfulness. God desires sacrifice.
The rich man was really good at keeping the commandments—at least the ones Jesus mentioned (commandments 5-10)—but what about the other ones? The FIRST ones? You know, the ones about having no other gods and saving time each week for rest and renewal in Him? The man didn’t answer Jesus about those, but I think we got his answer when he walked away. It is a reminder that it doesn’t matter how well behaved we are, as long as we have false idols where we continue to place our trust and fear.
The answer to “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” involves far more than good behavior. It involves faithfulness—love and trusting God. And it involves sacrifice—being willing to cut out the stuff that separates us from Him. But even more than that, it involves grace. My parents told us to be good. We weren’t. They loved us nonetheless. And if faithfulness sounds daunting to you, know that you are in good company. When his disciples first heard Jesus say it they said, “Jesus, no one can do that.” But Jesus said, “You’re right. You can’t. But God can.” May it be with us. May the same grace that washes you of your sin and claims you as God’s child, strengthen you live like it.
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