When I was in seminary, a member of our faculty did a quiet day for us, and there is one of the meditations that made such an impression on me, that I never forgot it. He asked us to close our eyes, and imagine ourselves sitting on a park bench. Then he asked us to imagine Jesus sitting on the bench with us. We were asked to talk to Jesus about the stuff of our lives, those things that were those sins of things done and left undone. Then, we imagined that Jesus wrapped his shawl around our shoulders. Jesus’s act was one of comfort and forgiveness; but there was more to it than that. What we were asked to see, was that in being clothed by Jesus with his shawl, that our appearance changed. When God the Father looked at us, he no longer saw us, but rather, saw the beloved Son, Jesus. All of our mistakes, all of those things that kept us separated from God disappeared and we were joined to Jesus in such a way that Jesus is the only thing the Father saw.
That image has stayed with me a long time, and it’s a image I offer to others who are burdened by the mistakes and sins in their own lives. There is much joy and comfort to be had as believers of Jesus, and it is something we should remember. I know that taking on Jesus in such a way as to be loved by God the Father, is something I need to hold on to much of the time.
Why do I think this image is so powerful? Perhaps because I see the image as true. In our readings today, we are warned in all kinds of ways to avoid greed – we are to put to death earthly things, and seek that which is above where Jesus is. This is not to say that our earthly lives and our possessions and wealth are bad, or not desirable; rather it is a warning against our living in ways that are not true to God and to each other. In our Gospel, the rich man hoards his wealth, building larger barns so that he might hoard even more wealth; and then God tells him he is foolish and all of that wealth isn’t going to do him any good because he is going to die before he can enjoy it. His desire to hoard his wealth is what our Old Testament lesson refers to as vanity… it is a useless exercise that profits no one, not even the wealthy man. And, we all have those tendencies to hide away wealth, to save for that rainy day, or to give ourselves an insurance policy of comfort for our old age.
These are not necessarily bad things; what IS bad, is when we put our wealth, our well being, in that place where God should be, when our material desires become what we long for and worship above God. I think the gospel has some pretty harsh things to say about how we use our wealth, whether it’s financial, social, or material. As disciples of Jesus, we are to use what we have to help others who have less; we have to reach beyond ourselves and our comfort to see and help those who are not as comfortable as we are. Jesus has destroyed the things that have stood between us, God, each other; and what do we do? We work to rebuild those walls because we cannot get away from our own sense of self preservation. But here, beloved is the thing; remember the images I started with today? The Father has loved so much, that nothing the Father has is held back from us, not even the Son. And, not only that, but you and I are grafted in so that when the Father looks at us, he sees his beloved Son, and all of our old self is stripped away and we are given a new life, a new identity in Jesus. All that Jesus is, we have become; for us, he is the perfection of life that is lived without sin; we aren’t there yet; we keep taking stuff back, forgetting what is TRUE about who we are; we are God’s own beloved, who have been reconciled to God and given the gift of eternal life. And that is true for all God’s people, even the ones we don’t like; even the ones who vote differently than we do, or who look different than we do; those people that we love to hate. What is true for us, is also true for them in the life of Jesus; and so what does that mean? It means that sometimes we have to fight to remove the scales from our eyes and see the truth about others. What is that truth? That they are God’s beloved, and that when God looks at THEM, God sees the beloved Son. So, maybe we have to start seeing the Truth of who we are, and who others are. We know that the commandments tell us to love God and love our neighbor, and that we cannot love God if we cannot love our neighbor. So, maybe it’s time to see all people as God sees them; maybe it’s time for us to see Truth with a capital T, not some idolatrous truth that tells us we must protect ourselves at the expense of another, or that what is true is to be found in our cable news channels or our social media pages. What happens on earth is important, but you and I are called to a different way of interacting with the world. This is the world that Jesus died for; God did not hold anything back for others, not even the Son. So it is necessary for us to let go of the hold we have on wealth, and prestige, and power– and see Jesus in ourselves and in others. When we do that, we become people who love their neighbors by doing what Jesus did… by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, clothing the poor, setting the captives free… and yes, even we are also called to give up all that we are to God who wants nothing less than everything… We are all called to be the One who is most beloved by God; may we take on his appearance as our own so that we might love as he loves – with everything that we have.