October 10, 2021
"A Puka Only Jesus Can Fill"
Rev. Dennis Barger
Teachers teach with everything they do. It is also true that teachers use relationship as well as curricula to teach. This means an atmosphere of mutual respect is just as important as the information or skills being taught. The Gospel writers portray Jesus as empathetic and respectful whenever he encountered someone: old and young; Jew and non-Jew; healthy and sick; educated and illiterate; the haves and the have-nots.
This young man stood out from the crowd for obvious reasons. He respectfully acknowledged Jesus’ authority as a Rabbi (a teacher). He was probably well dressed, attractive, smelled good, looked healthy and strong. He was certainly confident, assertive, articulate, and came from a morally upright family. But he came to Jesus because he was not happy. Something was missing in an otherwise enviable life. In his search for purpose and meaning he came to Jesus for answers.
Jesus immediately calls him on his attempt at flattery when he addresses him as “Good teacher”. Jesus levels any social hierarchy between them. That goes a long way to establish respect and communication.
The rich young man was being “good” in order to preserve his good life. Jesus reminded him all “goodness” comes from God, its source.
“God is good-all the time. All the time God is good.”
Jesus had a very hard lesson for him. The fact of the matter is his many possessions became so important to him he could not let go of them. His wealth and possessions possessed him.
He was caught in an unsatisfying loop.
This is important BECAUSE: We can identify with that (except for the fact that compared to the rest of the world U.S. citizens are considered to be rich.) Most of us have food, water, cars, and places to live. On the other hand seeing ourselves as rich may be hard to accept because of the “super-rich” lifestyles we see and secretly admire. If this scene were put in today’s context, it would be like a stretch limousine that pulls up to a caravan and a well-dressed man gets out runs to the head of the crowd, kneels, and calls out to its leader. Despite the fact that he is clearly part of the upper class we can still identify with him.
If you have ever owned a home you know what that is like. For example, if you want to maintain a nice grassy lawn you have to have a mower, and edger and all of the support supplies that go with it: gas and oil or batteries and a charger, a rake, and containers for the clippings. You have to repair the equipment it if it stops working. A well-maintained yard requires a lot of resources (or you hire a service). Either way it requires money. So we can sympathize with him because it seems our possessions dictate a lot of what we do.
It’s important BECAUSE: When we too wrapped up with our stuff pukas appear in our spirits and we vainly attempt to fill the empty places in our lives with activity or the things that money can buy. We use relationships, alcohol, drugs, food, entertainment, politics, the internet, sports, and even maintaining a strict moral code to lower our anxiety and maintain the illusion of control. The many compulsions that dominate our lives distract us from relying on God’s generous goodness. The trouble is these things work – for some - for a while. But if we are honest with ourselves they don’t really fill the gaps.
The unnamed young man in this story was looking for a solution to his quest for meaning and purpose. For all of his money and possessions he became aware of an empty place (puka) that he could not fill. He wondered if he was “good” enough to obtain “eternal life”. He wanted to know “What do I do to gain eternal life? ” Matthew’s gospel makes it even clearer when he quotes him saying What good deed must I do…”
Tragically he did not understand his own Jewish faith nor Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of God. His question to Jesus was way off the mark.
First of all, inheritance is a gift. You don’t have to do anything for it. You are born into it. You can’t earn your inheritance. You just accept it with gratitude. Jesus corrects his theology by first reminding him “No one is good except for God alone.”
Jesus acknowledges his good intentions by reciting six of the ten commandments—the ones that deal with human relationships. Don’t kill, be unfaithful, steal, lie, cheat, and honor your kupuna (call your parents). There was a lot to distract those who strived to be good Jews in his day. The Rabbis and scholars and judges, came up with literally thousands of do’s and dont’s that dominated all their waking hours. Jesus tried to make it simple for his followers. He boiled them all down to two commandments that cover everything: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself. They go hand in hand--loving God means loving neighbors.
Jesus faulted the rich young man for ignoring the suffering of the poor and not doing ANYTHING about it. Other scriptures put it bluntly, “How can you say, ‘I have fulfilled the law and the prophets,’ … and lo, many of your brothers, sons of Abraham, are clothed in filth, dying of hunger, and your house is full of many good things, none of which goes out to them?”
There were 200 people attending a seminar on mental and physical health. At one point, the speaker told the group they were going to do an activity. He gave each attendee one balloon and told them to write their name on it. Then, the balloons were collected and moved into a very small room.
The participants were then asked to go into the other room and were given two minutes to find their balloon.
It was chaos. People were searching frantically for their balloon, pushing each other, and running into one another while they grabbed a balloon, looked at it, and inevitably tossed it to the side.
At the end of the 2 minutes, no one had found the balloon that had their own name on it.
Then, the speaker asked the participants to go back in the room and pick up one balloon at random, look at the name, and return it to its owner. Within minutes, everyone had been reunited with their original balloon.
The speaker then told the group, “This is what it’s like when people are frantically searching for their own happiness in life. People push others aside to get the things that they want that they believe will bring them happiness. However, our happiness actually lies in helping other people and working together as a community.”
The Moral: You will get your happiness if you help other people find theirs. The Dalai Lama says, “If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Helping others makes us happy because it gives us a sense of purpose.
In fact, a study from the London School of Economics found that the more you help other people, the happier you will be. The researchers compared the variance in happiness levels of people who don’t help others on a regular basis to the happiness of weekly volunteers. They found that the participants had the same variance in happiness as those who make $75,000 – $100,000 annually vs $20,000.
If we want to be Jesus’ follower we are to act our way into right thinking rather than think our way into right action. We are aware that we are to do something as followers but just exactly what is it?
So what does being “good” mean today? First of all it means letting go of the notion that we cannot do anything to save ourselves—that is God’s work. Nothing we do will ensure a place in God’s Kin-dom (domain).
When we gratefully accept we’re included we can move into action that supports God’s priorities. We rebalance our priorities to include God’s priorities. The Hawaiian word pono also means achieving balance.
Following Jesus means believing that he will inspire us to give from the heart—to give up anything that gets in the way of our loving neighbors and to use our resources to benefit others (with self-care and caring for our ohana), especially greed, lust, vanity & all selfishness (self-centeredness).
But what shall we do? -> Answer these two questions ; What can we do? What must we do?
The basic answer is whatever upholds creation. In the Old Testament God looked upon all that God created and proclaimed it GOOD. Among other things we are charged with proactive caring for earth and sky and people,
to right wrongs where possible, to oppose racism in every form, to meet the suffering of others with adequate resources, to be a giver not a taker, to be a server not the one served, to actively avoid short term self-interest & pursue long term benefits, to abandon tribalism and distrust of strangers for world-wide perspective and acceptance of diversity. CHANGE IS GOOD FOR US.
THERE IS MUCH TO DO: reduce houselessness, promote affordable housing, restore water rights, assure clean water, insist on enlightened land use policy, reduce fertilizer runoff, eliminate pollution, restore our coral reefs, use less plastic, stop global warming.
Does this sound political? Remember, ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL.
MAKE GOOD CHOICES.
CHOOSE HOPE OVER FEAR,
TRUTH OVER LIES,
LIGHT OVER DARKNESS.
GIVE GOD THE GLORY!
Pule mākou e Ke Akua, We pray, O God, that you will remove from us any hindrance that keeps us from realizing our heart’s desire to be a Christian. May we see clearly what you would have us do. Help us to put our trust in Christ, who alone can keep us from falling by the wayside in self-deception, greed, false pride, or controlling people, places, and things. Let our faltering steps be guided by Jesus’ willingness to suffer defeat on our behalf, so that we can, from this day forward, walk boldly in his name. Amen!