Possessing nothing, controlling nothing. These seem to be states of being closer to the kingdom of heaven as Jesus describes it than is the way we generally like to make our way in the world, with some control over our destiny and enough wealth to be secure.
Jesus gathers the children and says the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these because they know how to receive the kingdom. And what is special about the approach of children? They approach with empty hands, not parading their achievements and self-sufficiency but with the humility and awareness that they are dependent.
This of course means that there is a natural connection to this story of Jesus and the children and the next interaction with the man commonly referred to as “the rich young ruler”. It is interesting that he ticks both the boxes of possession and control- he both has great possessions and apparently is in a position of power over others. He is firmly in charge of his orderly life, and is able to parade before Jesus also his achievements of righteousness. “I have kept all these since my youth” he says to Jesus who has drawn his attention to the commandments when he seeks a clear answer as to how he may continue to enjoy his life into eternity. Jesus’ response must have been devastating. Sell all that you own, and come follow me…Not only is he called to give up the security of his possessions, he is also expected to embrace the chaos that could follow of a life no longer neatly ordered with the capacity to neatly order others. He would need to recognise that his life is no longer entirely his to control.
Marian Free has reminded us in this week’s parish email reflection that “of all the gospel writers, Luke was the most concerned with wealth, in particular the building up and hoarding of wealth at the expense of others.” Today’s reading is a return to this theme, but with emphasis on the possibilities when we approach life in the simplicity of understanding that says that everything is gift, and we are dependent upon God and interdependent on one another. Our relationship to wealth and power matters if we are to be followers of Christ. A desire to create order through accumulation and domination means we lose that sense of dependence and with it, the freedom God would gift to us.
But isn’t order a good thing? Don’t we talk about putting our affairs in order as a responsible act? We are coming up to stewardship Sunday where careful planning and ordering of our budgets and a responsible eye to all of our financial commitments will create a better basis for our ministry a St Andrew’s. As each of us considers what we are able to give back to our community, we need to be thoughtful about our own needs and the needs of others who depend on us.
Don’t we recognise also that order is particularly important for children if they are to have a safe environment in which to grow and develop? The structure and scaffolding of boundaries and rules can be what actually enhances life and freedom. The innocence and vulnerability of children is supported by the order that adults can create on their behalf. We can use our power and wealth to create a more orderly world where others can thrive. Doesn’t it therefore seem a little harsh that Jesus would sigh and say, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” when this man may have been in all things simply seeking to live responsibly?
I think it is important that we don’t trip ourselves up by creating a simple binary where that man was either going to be acceptable to God or he wasn’t. Jesus does not say, “Ah well, too bad. You don’t measure up and so you are damned.” There is no sense that this is a law Jesus is creating, but rather he is inviting him into a life lived in greater freedom. “Let go of these attachments to your orderly self-created life,” he is effectively saying, “and follow me into the greater freedom and joy found in utter dependence on God.” Jesus is inviting him to something better than he is creating for himself; a life that is beyond his own self-contained and ultimately self-limiting universe.
This is about possibility. There is comfort in Jesus’ response to his alarmed disciples’ question about salvation that, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” Our God is the God who opens up the possibility for life in each moment.
I had the great joy of a conversation this week with Presbyterian pastor, theologian and science fiction writer, David Williams. David writes in his recent book;
Absolute chaos is a prison. Within it, we are not free. Within it, life is not possible. But so is absolute order. Absolute order permits no creativity and allows for nothing new. It exists as a static and unchanging rigidity. Nothing can exist outside of the system that defines everything. Nothing can be permitted to enter into the system, or it will threaten the existing order. It is complete, self-contained, and utterly dead.
I was reflecting on this as I read this story of the rich ruler who could be seen to be one who was self-contained and utterly dead to the possibility Jesus was offering him because he remained clinging to the control over his life found in his wealth and power. Jesus will disrupt our well-ordered lives if we choose to be his disciples.
I wonder how much we have assumed chaos to be bad and order to be good ? Such a bias can lead us further and further down the track of an utterly self-contained and self-dependent life. American cartoonist Jok Church writes;
Chaos does not mean total disorder. Chaos means a multiplicity of possibilities. Chaos is from the ancient Greek words that means a thing that is birthed from the void. And it was about that which is possible, not about disorder.
For the possibilities of God to be realised, life needs space to emerge; a blend of structure and creative room to move. Love, after all, is perhaps the most chaotic experience of all because it means opening ourselves to difference, honouring the freedom and celebrating the uniqueness of the other. When Jesus says, “Come follow me” it is an invitation to be open to the utter otherness of God and a willingness to surrender our own agendas with the open-hearted trust of a child. When we cling to possessions and power, we shrink God down to a manageably small and contained influence on our lives. Steven Shakespeare writes in a piercingly honest prayer for this week;
impatient with your otherness
we make you into an idol
to serve our own needs:
humble our arrogance
by the strangeness of your coming
and the wonder of your mercy
How we steward our resources and the choices we make about the power we have been given reveals what matters to us. We can choose to reflect the loving, self-giving grace of the God who created all things and yet was humble enough to make a home with us and in us. Or..we can choose to pursue our will to power, our will to dominate and manipulate, and our greed to accumulate. This appears to be an inherent possibility of the freedom we have been given. The rich man was, after all, free to walk away.
But I believe we also carry within us, and every moment carries within it, the possibilities of grace when we align ourselves… entrust ourselves… to the goodness of God in Christ.
Perhaps the rich ruler young ruler, beloved and known by God, just could not see a greater freedom and joy than that which he had known in his well contained life.
If freedom includes both order and an openness to the chaos of our own possibility, then surrendering our will to the order of God and our limited view to the joyful potentiality of an unknown future held by God requires us to find the courage and faith to follow.
This path will mean a careful weaving of our lives between order and chaos if we are to allow room for the surprising possibilities of God. It will mean valuing love and relationships over rules and systems. And it will mean opening our hearts to the disruptive presence of the Spirit who gifts freedom and possibility whilst holding in place a deep order founded on the power of love and the beauty of grace.
May we allow the ordering of God in our hearts even as we open ourselves to the disruption of the Spirit in our lives, enabling us to turn again and follow the way of Jesus.
 Williams, David. Christ and the Multiverse: Following Jesus in Our Wild, Infinite Creation (p. 67). Apocryphile Press. Kindle Edition
 Shakespeare, Steven. Prayers for an Inclusive Church, Kindle Edition