By Rev. Andra Townshend O'Neill
The fall seems to be a time that we pay particular attention to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in terms of Stewardship.
The challenge of thinking about Stewardship in these specific ways at these specific times is that it gives the impression that Stewardship is something that is distinct from everything else that we do as followers of Christ - as disciples.
And yet one of the first things that Jesus directed people who wanted to be his followers to do, was to deal with their worldly possessions. There seems to be a direct link between how we understand our “things” and how clearly we will be able to see and enter into the Kingdom of God.
As far as Jesus was concerned, it is a non-negotiable. We don’t have a flex plan for discipling where if you are really good at a few Christian things you don’t have to do some of the other things.
In order to truly be followers of Jesus, being radical stewards is required. Consider this passage from the gospel of Mark (10:21-27)
"Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." 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."
When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!"
And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.(NIV)“
Oh no. I thought I was following Jesus. I can give you list of things that I have done to show my commitment as a disciple, my commitment to become who God wants me to be, but I definitely have not done this. Darn it Jesus, do you know how hard this is?
Even if I could convince my husband that we should sell everything we have, I am not sure how the kids would take it! But these don’t seem like excuses that would stand up in a conversation with Jesus.
I don’t think I could convince myself because I have bought into the idea that safety, security, the ability to help others, to hold others accountable are tied up in wealth and influence - I am just being honest here. This is the society that we live in, the world that we live in.
But this kind of thinking, this idea that my wealth helps me help others by allowing me to influence others is not Christ-like. And things that are not Christ-like stand between me and the Kingdom of God that I am trying to get to. If that is what I am actually trying to do.
Isn’t that what we are trying to accomplish as Christians? We are trying to do what Jesus commanded us to do.
A big part of Jesus’ life on earth was to reveal to us what the Kingdom of God looks like so that we could understand at least a little bit what the point of our lives actually is. And in his teaching Jesus gave us some very good advice - direct, specific advice about how to see this kingdom -to have it revealed to us.
And in this gospel passage, a very faithful man has identified himself as one who follows all of God’s commandments- which in itself is pretty amazing. And when Jesus tells him what it is that remains to be done the poor man was shocked and went away grieving.
Imagine if I told you that you that you would not get into heaven unless you sold every last thing you had and gave it to the poor? Imagine.
Would you be sad? Mad?
Would you simply ignore what I said?
The disciples asked the question for us…”Jesus, this seems extreme and unlikely”…is what they basically said.
And Jesus said - you are right. It is impossible for humans… but remember, for God all things are possible.
This formula must be memorized:
God + human.
It is not Human + things + money + generosity It is God + human = God’s Kingdom.
Jesus is telling us that to even have a chance of seeing the Kingdom, let alone entering in, what you own - what you believe you own, you must surrender to God. You must recognize everything you have as God’s, as belonging to God’s Kingdom.
You must see the house you live in as God’s house, the car you drive, the bank account…all belong to God. To consider what God might want you to do with the things you have.
You must see yourself diminishing from your things and God entering in.
Then, and only then are we actually following Christ, following Christ into the realm of the Kingdom.
God + human. May God help us to see this truth. Let’s pass through the eye of the needle together.
Rev. Andra Townshend O'Neill is the rector of St. Mark's, London and a member of the diocesan Stewardship Committee.