(Sermon originally posted in ICON)
Eligibility for Eternal Life/ Kingdom of God: A Meditation on Luke 18:18-27
The Gospel reading for sixth Sunday after the feast of the Cross comes from the Gospel according to St. Luke 18:18-27. This story is about the ruler who sought “eternal life”. All texts that are prescribed by the Church for reading during this season would suggest a new culture; ‘Culture of the Cross’. In all these readings principles for a genuine Christian life are presented. These principles are drawn with the cross as the foundation. This particular event also gives one of those principles. Ch. 18 begins with a couple of parables. They do not have much relation with our text. But the immediately previous section (Vs. 15-17) has some thing to talk about this story. As in the case of other chapters, Luke has collected in this chapter also incidents and sayings from his source and compiled them with a lose outline under the general outline involving the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. This is the second story that talks about some one asking about eternal life in Luke. It is not clear whether Luke took this story or the one in ch. 10 (25-28) from Mark 10:17 ff (this is on the assumption that Mark was the first Gospel). While Mark has certain man asking about eternal life, Luke 10 has a lawyer and Luke 18 has a ruler. Another parallel story is seen in Matthew 19:16ff. In Matthew also the question comes from ‘certain man’. Generally they all agree on much of the content. Luke 10 has more differences among them. In our present passage, the section that begins with v.18 should end only with v.30. But for the Church which wants to make a point wishes to end the passage with v.27. Further dealing of Peter’s statement and Jesus’ answer to it are not quite important for the Church under the circumstance. The point is well made with two statements in vs.24 and 27. (‘How hard it is for rich man to enter the Kingdom of God’ and ‘that which is impossible with man is possible with God’). There are several sayings regarding Kingdom of God and conditions to enter into it in the Gospels. Most of them are in Matthew’s Gospel. Luke has a couple of them and two among them are in this chapter. The other one is in 9:62. It is interesting to note that the first among these two appear just before this passage in 18:16. This talks about the innocence, trust, and dependence with which one will be made eligible to enter the Kingdom (like a child). The third and last one is in 18:29. It tells us that entry in to the Kingdom is not on human effort; rather by the grace of God (Apostle Paul has used this theme extensively). It is for this grace one has to put the trust and dependence on God. In this context our passage becomes an example for the trust and dependence. It is worth noting that on two Sundays back (4th Sunday after the feast of the Cross; St. Luke 16:9-18), the reading talked about a similar issue. This passage told us that one cannot serve both wealth and God simultaneously just as one cannot serve two masters the same time. Here in our present passage (18-27) the basic question is not whether one obeys all the commandments or not. Rather, the question is ‘what is the attitude of the person who follows the laws’. Obeying the law can only be an expression of faith in and relation with God. It is not done because of fear or compulsion, rather because of love and trust. So the word ‘obedience’ itself will become extinct to have ‘love expression’ in our language instead. The ruler that came to Jesus was a rich man and his attitude to wealth was expressed through his walking out from the presence of Jesus when he was asked to sell all his processions to be given to the poor. He stated that he has been obeying all the commandments childhood onwards. Here God (Son of God) is testing him with an even greater commandment or the first commandment in its true sense. When you say ‘there shall not be any other god than your God’ it does not mention just the gods of other communities. It certainly refers to any thing that can distance oneself from God and what His mind asks for. Jesus requires the person to go beyond the written law and to follow the mind of God expressed every moment in his life. This is how law becomes dynamic and contextual. The mind of God is that human should put their complete trust in God and follow him all the way. Few days back I was talking to a member of our congregation, a retired high ranking police officer. He talked about a highly qualified and efficient doctor working in one of the cities in Kerala. This doctor collects huge amount as fee and recommends expensive tests, many a time for no valid reason, from which he gets big commission. Obviously this doctor is a very rich man. He has a huge house and loving family. But since he is addicted to his job that brings him high income, he spends hardly three hours at home. He even sleeps in the personal chamber attached to his office in the hospital. My questions: why he should have such a big house and a loving family since he spends only few hours there? Why he should have so much money since he spends most of his time in the hospital? Of course I am not the one who raised this question first. Our Lord raised this question several centuries back (Luke 12:20). This is still a relevant question before every person who fails to live quality life with mutual love, care and fellowship to make money and add on material wealth. The issue is not whether this person was rich or not. Rather, when it comes to choosing between the two, he chose the wrong one. This displayed his attitude towards wealth. I must say many of our people having some career (especially in diasporas) get easily carried away by career mania and fail to live a life of their own with their family and friends. Any one who put trust in wealth will do any thing to gather and preserve it. He may be some one who literally following all the commandments. But that will not make him eligible to have eternal life. Eternal life goes beyond material and worldly processions and keeping some law or statute. Keeping the commandment is a positive way of keeping dependent relationship with God. It is worth noting that following this passage (vs. 18-30) Jesus is seen talking about his passion through which he displayed his readiness to let everything he had, including his life, go for the sake of eternal life for others. That was His way of keeping the commandment of His Father. Only the one who is able to let what he clings on to go, can attain eternity. This is the true liberation or salvation. Liberation is detachment from worldliness and attachment to God and His creation. In this context Peter’s statement (v.28) becomes a statement about the correct attitude of a disciple of Jesus. Jesus’ reply to such an attitude (vs.28, 30) tells us something about eternity and Kingdom of God. It is experienced in the context of a community and will lead to a state beyond this material world. The implication is that some one who holds wealth in high regard will not be able to have a loving and caring community around. This situation will deprive that person of eternity. It is good to read about Cain’s cry before God who said, ‘I have become a wandering person, a fugitive and vagabond and any one who sees me will kill me’ (Gen. 4:13, 14). Kingdom of God is experienced in dynamic fellowship with one another and attachment to wealth and material processions will prevent people from having this kind of fellowship. The ruler may be like the one talked about in Luke 14:1 ff., a proud and rich person who follows the law, but fails to recognize and respect others. Eternal life is equated with Kingdom of God. The casual use of the term “good” is not well accepted by Jesus. The ruler did not have to use it on Jesus as it was inherent in Him. A teacher can only be good teacher and God is the only teacher. There shall not be any ‘not so good teacher’ or ‘bad teacher’. By presenting this event, Luke was making a comparison between what is and what should be. Same is the purpose of the Church in choosing this passage for our meditation during the season. A person who lives by Christian principles and by the culture of the cross will sure take serious note of this comparison. The Pharisees were custodians of the law but never understood the spirit of the law. They were rich and were proud of that, but did not know the real use of it (Luke 16:14; 16:9). Jesus criticizes them for so foolish. Christians, on the contrary, are to be more concerned of submitting themselves to the mind of God on a daily basis. One can be saved only by trusting in God and following his will, because He is the one who grants ‘eternal life’.