Lent, Day 34: Being free.

Today’s reading: Mark 10:17-31

My first instinct was to title this reflection “being empty,” because my first impression was that that’s what Jesus was requesting of the rich young man: that he empty his pockets, and thereby empty out himself, in order to follow the Lord.

But it seems we often latch on to the negative idea of things, rather than looking a bit harder to find the positive… not just what “feels bad” versus what “feels good,” but what is removed rather than what is restored. We seem more comfortable, sometimes, with coping with what is taken away than with graciously accepting what is added. Perhaps it’s because what is added is often not quantifiable, or perhaps it’s simply because we’ve been taught that sacrifice is sacred.

So I asked myself, what is the point of this encounter, between Jesus and a young man whose cash value trumped his desire for discipleship? Is the point emptiness–the removal? Is it charity–the giving? Or is it freedom–the gift of freedom from all the things that would hold us back from following whole-heartedly? Once again, Jesus turns expectations upside-down: a young man, from the right background, with the right beliefs, who has checked all the necessary boxes, who seems a shoe-in for religious inclusion, is shown to be enslaved to the one thing he holds most dear: $$$.

(Okay, I know, they didn’t use $dollars$ back then!!! What should I have said: “the almighty sheckel”? LOL)

This is a tremendously difficult text for most of us to hear, in a contemporary society where we are generally in no danger of losing all we have–much less, of being asked to give it away willingly. We have the luxury of reading this passage with a long lens; we can speculate on it theologically, we can hypothesize and opinionate about issues of wealth, care for the poor, family relationships, independence, walking away, and walking alongside Jesus. Then we can go to our warm, safe homes, and eat cozy dinners, and hug our spouses, our children, our parents, our friends. And this is what our culture teaches us is “freedom”: freedom is holding tight to what we have earned and what we deserve; freedom is having choices, including the choice to give; freedom is belonging. Likely that rich young man thought he was free: he had his full billfold, his choices, his class.

In this freedom-loving society, are we willing to consider that maybe our definition of freedom has been overly influenced by the almighty sheckel? The freedom Jesus offers to the rich young man has no connection to the coins in his pocket; instead, Jesus offers the freedom of emptiness, of releasing the possessive grasp, of letting go. The freedom of traveling light.

God, forgive me for all the times I try to mold your gospel like clay, to fit tidily inside my own values and priorities. Help me to be truly free to follow you: help me to release my grasping fists, to let go of the things that promise only fleeting security. Help me to find my belonging on the path to your kingdom.

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