The rich young ruler? That was me

by
August 2nd, 2015

At Christmas when we sing, “O come let us adore him,” who are we talking about? Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Messiah, right? Are we talking about an idea or a concept or a spirit-being of some kind? No, we’re talking about the baby in the manger who would become the man on the cross.

Note: This was presented as the opening talk for Saturday’s session of the second annual conference of the Fellowship of Former Christian Scientists, held July 31 – August 1 at First Korean Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri. For information go to www.ffcsministry.org

There are three ways to sing that carol. We can sing about adoring Jesus but not mean it, which is what Christian Scientists unfortunately do. We can mean it but not live it, which is what many Christians unfortunately do. Or we can mean it and live it, which is what you and I would aspire to do.

So my challenge for all of us this morning is simply this: Adoring Jesus for Real. Adoring Jesus for Real.

To do this will help us immensely in our spiritual growth, I believe.

It will also help us in ministering to followers of Christian Science or any other spiritual counterfeit.

My text is from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, verse 21. A young man from one of the best families – devout, respectable, and wealthy – comes to Jesus asking how to obtain eternal life.

His sincerity is impressive. He addresses Jesus earnestly as “Good Master.” He knows the Scriptures. He lives by the Ten Commandments. He reminds me of myself during my 40 years in Christian Science.

The Lord answers him this way: “Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”

Does the young man obey? No. Does he even inquire further? No. He declines the cross and declines following the Son of God. Why? Because he can’t bear to part with what Mark calls his “great possessions.”

This too reminds me of myself when I was an earnest, Bible-studying, rule-keeping, possession-hoarding Christian Scientist.

Not that money or materialism or status ever kept me from considering the claims of Christ. I had all those temptations in some degree, but my “great possessions” took the form of prideful knowledge about how to know the Truth, how to counteract mortal mind, how to give treatments, how to tell the inspired passages of Scripture from all the rest, all the dross.

I was the Rich Young Ruler – not because of financial net worth or the power to boss others around, but for deeper and more dangerous spiritual reasons.

I believed I had the wherewithal, the religious assets if you will, to buy my own salvation from sin, sickness, and death.

I was confident of being able to rule myself by the sheer power of right thinking, putting off the carnal mind and accessing the divine Mind.

I knew from Science and Health that Jesus was not God incarnate, the second Person of the Trinity, the Lamb whose death and resurrection purchased eternal life for me, but merely “the highest human concept of the perfect man.”

What need had I of him as the Lord of my life and the Savior of my soul? What need had I of his water for baptism, his body and blood in the Eucharist, his intercession for me at the right hand of the Father?

I had the highest concept and that was what counted. I had great possessions and wasn’t about to part with them for any such bargain as the cross.

I was rich – only I wasn’t. How shattering and how scary, yet at the same time how freeing and how exalting, when I learned that.

I’m sure each of you could tell your own story of that tremendous experience of awakening, whether sudden or gradual – that long-resisted coming to ourselves, as the story of the Prodigal Son puts it.

The young man in Mark 10 is one of many seekers that we meet in the gospels who were interested enough in Jesus to engage with him, but not brave enough or broken enough to say yes and follow him. Nicodemus who came by night. The man who had business commitments. The man who had to bury his father. The mass exodus after his Bread of Life teaching in John 6.

When Jesus gave the invitation, instead of saying yes they tried to say maybe or later or but. That doesn’t work with Jesus. He offers all of himself, but he wants all of us in return. Exactly as he challenged the young man, we have to completely sell out for him, or we end up with none of him at all.

Oh, we can still call ourselves Christians, we can wear the various labels – not just scientific Christians as you and I used to be, but also in some cases evangelical Christians or Catholic Christians or LDS Christians, or any other denomination – make-believe Christ-followers full of mistaken sincerity whom we all may know right now in our own churches.

I say “make-believe” not to put anybody down, but just to emphasize the fact that whoever says but to the Lord Jesus Christ does not truly know him – and is at risk of being told by him at the last day, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7, verse 23).

We can’t say but to Jesus. We either tell him yes, yes period, or he tells us no. We have to adore him for real. Adoration means love unreserved, love unconditional, love unending, love utterly unselfed.

It only says yes. It never says but. Adoration with moderation is nonsense. It’s absurd. It’s meaningless.

You probably remember these words from the Tenets of Christian Science: “We acknowledge and adore one supreme and infinite God.” So far so good.

But listen to how it continues: “We acknowledge his Son, one Christ [and] the Holy Ghost or divine Comforter.”

Hear that? Not a word of adoration for the Son or the Spirit. The man Jesus is not even mentioned. The Trinity is subtly but unmistakably denied.

During my prolonged exit from Mrs. Eddy’s teachings, I struggled with years of confusion and do-it-yourself theology, trying to say maybe to Jesus. I clung to tantalizing phrases in the textbook, like the one where she says we owe him endless homage, page 18, or the one where she actually says we adore him, page 26.

But you know what? In each of those passages, just a few words later, she undercuts it by explicitly saying, in the one case, “but,” and in the other case “yet.”

The unreserved adoring worship given to the newborn Jesus by the Magi at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel and to the risen Jesus by the apostles at the end of the same book is nowhere to be found in Mrs. Eddy’s book.

She says on page 140 that the only way to properly adore God is to stop struggling – her actual word is “warring” – over the mystery of his incarnation, the Word made flesh.

Well, friends, I can never be grateful enough that my struggle over that very doctrine kept intensifying until it finally broke through my smug sense of sinless identify and my proud system of self-salvation and drove me off the membership rolls of the Mother Church and straight to the foot of the cross.

Much like Saul of Tarsus, perhaps much like you, I was increasingly unable to “kick against the pricks.” The hints and the evidence and the clues from sacred Scripture kept battering at that good man, that paradoxically murderous man – what if Jesus really is the Lord of the universe – until at last Saul became Paul.

For me the pricks included so many things hiding in plain sight. Every Sunday in church we heard that counterpoint to the Lord’s Prayer, “Adorable One.” Really? How was I supposed to adore divine Principle and six other abstract synonyms. But might the beautiful man Jesus be adorable and accessible both? That was something else again.

Up on the church wall we saw those gold letters, “God is Love.” One more abstraction, stolen from the common-sense concreteness of I John chapter 4, where the proof of God’s love is Jesus made flesh and the telltale against false prophets is Jesus made flesh and the miraculous empowerment for selfish fallen human beings to love each other is the grace of the Father and his Son who loved us first, in all our unlovableness.

What a weekend of rejoicing this can be for us, brothers and sisters. What a life of rejoicing we can lead every day, whether in good times or in bad. He loved us first, in all our unlovableness, transforming us into the ability to love him back, indeed adore him, and let that love spill on others around us – the less lovable the more they need our love.

Let’s make this a day of adoring Jesus for real, adoring him as never before. Let’s fasten our gaze on him and keep it there, as the book of Hebrews says. Let’s decrease so he can increase, as John the Baptist said. Let’s do whatever he tells us, as the Blessed Virgin said.

Surely that will bring a smile to his face, and a rich harvest in our own lives, and a new field of evangelism opportunities with Christian Scientists who so need our strong love and God’s saving truth.

“Christ and the Rich Young Ruler,” Heinrich Hoffman, 1889

rich young ruler

The author can be reached at andrewsjk@aol.com

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