“I love you Jesus.” I thought with a gush of emotion. I don’t always feel this in my heart. I’ve not said it much, though my spiritual companion closes her prayer with, “We love you Jesus” instead of “in Jesus name.” (When I was a girl I took that as a sign someone walked as a Christian.) It feels intimate to say that to him and very true. I’m picking manure in the barn, sorting it from clean shavings, tossing it in the muck wagon.The early morning light casts me in shadow against the orange light. Bruce is emptying the water bucket.
Almost immediately, I think a thought, that hisses. “If you love me sell all you have and give to the poor and follow me.”
I imagine that I am the Rich Young Ruler asking Jesus what can I do to inherit eternal life? I called him good. The wind kicked up some dust. I brushed it out of my face.
“Good teacher, what must I do to earn eternal life?” I’d seen him lift the paralyzed man by the pool, the one whose waters the angel stirs. I’d heard him speak to the Pharisees, like someone who knew how stand up to bullies.
“There is no one good. Except God alone.” He was curt. His eyes sparkled like sun on water that was so bright I could not look.
“Well okay. Are you saying I called you God?” I thought it but I didn’t say it. I perspired under my clothes. My feet hurt. How good the foot basin would feel when I got home, how pretty the mosaic.
“You know the commandments. ‘Do not commit adultery. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother.'”
“I’ve done all those things,” I said. I’d come to him wanting to tell him I loved him, wanting to please. “What else do I need to do?” How badly I wanted to follow this man who radiated light and goodness, the kind of goodness I wanted for myself.
“If you want to be perfect, Sell your stuff, give to the poor. You will have treasure in heaven.”
Tears welled up. I had so much stuff it would take days to sell it for a good price and the teacher would be gone by then. My fine dishes from the east I used to serve guests. My wine collection that brought joy. My blankets that kept me warm. And my horse, who greeted me every morning with a low rumble from his throat? How could I part with any of it?
“It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” he said. I knew the eye of the needle, the gate in Jerusalem where merchants had to unload their camels because it was so narrow and short. I watched the methodical work of merchant bringing me rugs. I was tired by the time he was done and reloaded his camel and I took him to my home.
I smeared tears and dust from my eyes. I walked away. I did not see those eyes love me or hear Peter ask who then can be saved? Or hear what Jesus said, “With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible.”
(I have heard Barnabus was the rich young ruler. I have often thought it was Paul, that this interchange would be enough for him to hate Christians and persecute them. He himself said he was blameless as far as the law went.)
The voice spoke again. “Sell all.” I scooped the last of the manure into the cart and started clearing clean shavings off the wet spot. Bruce hung up the empty water bucket. He picked up a full one and dumped it in, the water splashing the bottom, sounding like water sounds when it’s moving.
I replied. “And then what? Go on welfare? Ask others to take care of me? There’s no way I can do this. Besides it would take at least a year to get rid of my stuff. Then who do I give it to? A panhandler on the street? The Rescue Mission? the United Way? Compassion International? Doctors Without Borders?
The voice spoke again, quoting scripture perfectly. “You’re a rich American. Woe to you, you who are rich for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now for you shall be hungry.”
Suddenly I’m burning in the pit. I see the panhandler I drove by held close by father Abraham. “Could you raise Lazarus so he can tell my family?” That’s what the rich man in the story says, and father Abraham, himself a rich man, says, “They have the law and the prophets. If someone came back from the dead they would not believe it. Besides you received your consolation while you were alive.”
The three headed dog of hades is snarling because all I give are the crumbs off my table—a donation here, a donation there.
No, no, no I say. There’s no way I can do this. I defy the voice because it doesn’t sound like Jesus who said I will never leave you or forsake you. By saying no, I feel terrible freedom like standing on the bridge across the Rio Grande. I am free to stay on the road. Free to climb over the railing and fly for a minute to the bottom. I choose to stand.
Phrases from the Bible scamper through my head. “Beware lest you harden your hearts. Don’t be like the people who forgot how God rescued them from slavery, fed and watered them in the wilderness because they were afraid of a story about giants.. Now is the day to act if you hear his voice.
“The sheep know my voice. The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. He climbs into the fold another way.”
So Jesus what is your voice? Because you told a young man who wanted to be good to sell all he had and follow you. You pronounced Woe to the rich who are comforted.
The Lord loves a cheerful giver. If I give all that I have and have not love my sacrifice is worthless. There is no cheerful joy or love, just the snarling three headed dog guarding the River Styx, at least that’s how I remember the myth.
At the end of a class on prayer, I barely ask my question about how Scripture can beat you up. Geordie Ziegler said, “You are not called to obey a moral code. You are called to a living relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” But Jesus said this. Geordie Ziegler says, “Everything we’re asked to do. They’re not meant to be responses to Christ, they’re responses in Christ. Nothing you do is God did his part, I do mine. Most children’s messages are moralism. All logical. Jesus is on our side with us. We are included in His life.” In His life.
What is your image of God? asks the teacher in my Integration Healing class. How has that image changed? Look in the Reflection cards. Many are pictures of Disney characters that have been designed by psychologists to nudge our imagination into new thinking. “Tell me what you see.” They have spoken in the past but none speak now. I’d rather offer my own images but to go along to get along I pick two cards.
When it’s my turn, I say my image of God has stayed the same. I showed a hand holding a baby. I have felt that deep comfort from God, his love wrapped around me when I have wept all the way to the bottom, a cold stone floor, Christ the rock, prayer like breath. Then I show the three headed dog guarding Hades because of these thoughts that I just told you, that poke me, that make me feel like nothing I do is enough, like Jesus’ own words fly in the face of “God is love, Fear not, I will never leave you or forsake you.”
At the end of class we do a guided meditation. I don’t follow her lead about being one up or one down from someone. No, I remember that I know those three headed dogs. I met them riding my horse in a valley between our farm and the next one. The sun was dropping behind the trees. A hawk soared. A dried skull from some small animal was on the path. Three black Great Danes faced off. But I was on my horse. I charged them and they scattered. I was on my horse. Off to my left was a giant willow four people couldn’t hug, fingers touching, and I remembered sitting there and seeing the sun reflect dapples of light into the trees across the river. I sat there and knew that death was dead, that my mother’s funeral felt more like a wedding, that it felt like time bent around and she’d already leapt out of the grave. And the whole valley was full of God’s love.
Quieter voices whisper in my thoughts, in my reading: “If God were as merciful as I am training my dogs, he’d start with small behaviors that build towards the next one and the next and that includes generosity.”
A friend, Terri Murrison writes in Taking Pearls of Wisdom Home From Uganda, “Just because someone says they have a need doesn’t mean that I am the one to fill it. I need to be ok with that. Trying to be everyone’s savior not only consumes energy and resources that might have gone to others, it robs someone else of the opportunity to give.”
If I wind up like Lazarus in Hades, I know that Jesus holds the keys. If I wind up in God’s consuming fire, I will be like the prophet who said, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s he make some tread on my high places” (Hab. 3:17 – 19).
A different vision comes. What about your table at the great feast will host all the people you helped, those crumbs from your table fed them, and their being fed, carried onto their children and their grandchildren on down through the generations. What if the old law is right that God will remember the righteous through a thousand generations? That he is able to keep us from stumbling and present us before the presence of his glory with great joy.
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