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August 5, 2010

What a question for Jesus to ask, “…are you envious because I am generous?” If you’ll bear with me for a few too many words I’ll share some thoughts which got my attention when I read the discussion that led up to this question.

First, let’s go to where the story telling begins (Matthew 19:13-15).

People are bringing children to Jesus so he can touch and pray for them. He rebuts the disciple’s irritation with the children’s interruption when He says, “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” So Jesus sets the standard to entering the kingdom; the kingdom of heaven belongs to children of all ages.

The next discussion is prompted by a question Jesus received from a rich man (Matthew 19:16-22). “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Jesus’ first response to this man’s question sets things in place for the possibility of a huge “aha moment” which the man misses completely! Jesus asks, “Why do you ask me about what is good? …there is only One who is good.” The standard for “good” is God and the only one who is good is God. “Now for you if you want to enter life, obey the commandments. But, you still will not be good. Only God is good. Here’s what God calls you to do, simply surrender your will to His and keep the commands of God and you’ll be saved.” But, don’t misunderstand; keeping the commands will not make you good. Even if you do good things, you are not going to be good and thereby heaven bound. Only God is good.

The man’s response reveals that he’s still not getting the point being made by Jesus. “All these I have kept… What do I still lack?” Jesus’ response seems to say, “Ok, if you want to play the going to heaven game that way, I’ll play it with you, “…go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” “So, if you want to play the game of being good and doing good gives you eternal life then let’s really go for it, sell everything and give it to the poor (Now that’s a GOOD thing!) and follow me.”

The man’s reaction reveals that he can’t handle the being good and doing good gives you eternal life thing after all. “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” Rather than getting the point, he holds on to the be good and do good and I’ll go to heaven way of getting eternal life and the result was and is always the same, he went away defeated and discouraged. Obviously, the point is not that, no one can be saved nor is the point that Christians are not to bother with obeying the commands. Jesus goes on to describe the rich man’s dilemma with the camel through the needle, illustrating the reality for a rich man (or anyone else for that matter) attempting the being good and doing good leads to eternal life way to heaven. .

The disciples who are listening to this and watching it unfold are shocked into a question of their own for Christ (Matthew 19:25-30).

“Who then can be saved?” “If this man who had obeyed God all of his life had to sell everything he had and give it to the poor in order to have eternal life then who will ever go to heaven?”  NO BODY! That is nobody who is depending on the, be good and do good and I’ll go to heaven way of eternal life, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Salvation is only possible with God!

That leads Peter to want to know where he stands. He (and the others) had left everything and followed Jesus (unlike the rich man who tucked tale and ran) so he now wants to know what he can expect from all of the sacrifice he’s made? Jesus is willing to answer him, In your eternal future there awaits each of you a throne and a position of judging the twelve tribes of Israel. AND EVERYONE “…who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” Jesus tells the apostles and everyone else who has made these sacrifices that it will be well worth the effort because of the inheritance of “eternal life”. Jesus doesn’t ignore our obedience and sacrifice. In fact he rewards our efforts, as feeble and inadequate as they are but remember only God is good.

Then Jesus ties a bow around things with a statement and the parable that follows (Matthew 19:30-20:16).

“But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

That statement introduces a story with a profound lesson attached.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.“

The landowner in the parable went early in the morning and hired workers offering to pay them a denarius to work all day. He went back later in the day and hired more workers. He went back even later in the day and hired more workers. He went back even later in the day and hired even more workers. Then he went out even later in the day and hired more workers. When the day was over the landowner paid each of them a denarius.

Those who had worked longer and harder expected to be paid more so they grumbled against the land owner. “These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”

The landowner’s response illustrates the folly of all attempts to gain control of the way to eternal life. “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

Jesus saves those He wants to save because He wants to and chooses to. Childlike faith and obedience is our effort to please and praise God for all the right reasons and salvation is the result of God’s loving mercy, given fairly and generously.

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