It’s Thursday morning. The coffee shop conversation of last night is still steeping in my mind like the coffee grounds swirling in the French press this morning. We talked about disciplines–that great American topic–exercise and eating right and getting out of bed early. How does God perceive our stumbling efforts to DO good and make ourselves feel better about ourselves? As the moon climbed high over Nappanee, we discussed that our disciplines are often an effort to find life.
That’s when I look again at my coffee mug, full of chocolate brown and a frosting of lighter foam. Under the word FAITH, it says, “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible.’ ” Matthew 19:26
In what context did Jesus say that? I turn my Bible open to Matthew. Yes, he was responding to the young man who came to Jesus with a question. How odd! It was just the question that, 2000 years later, we were discussing last night in the coffee shop.
“What good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
Jesus questions him a little and we find that this is an immaculate young man. I have no doubt that he got up before the sun rose over Judea and worked out every morning and never ate chocolate chip cookies sandwiched with frosting.
Jesus let him feel good about this for about half a second, then asked him to give up his French press and his iPad and his new job and start walking on dusty roads where crowds of sick people reach out for Jesus and there’s no Internet service.
For perhaps the first time in his life, this young guy is less than immaculate. He’s very troubled by the turn in a conversation that he thought he had under control. He really did want to follow Jesus’ recommendations… but this? His social status was his identity!
The scary thing? That was Jesus’ point. Jesus is just that good at reading hearts, that he can find where we have placed our identity and customize his instructions to dismantle it. He can find the one thing that we are getting life from, and ask us to abandon it. For this man, it is possessions. For someone else, it might be education. For another person, it could even be working out and eating right, could it not?!
As the man walks away, Jesus points out to his disciples that the handsome young man is a frightening prototype: People who have achieved a lot on their own don’t enter the kingdom often. They’ve created their own world, and it works well. They don’t need to join another kingdom. They’ve taken all the right classes and associated with all the right people. They’re too busy working out and acing college exams and updating their electronics and making French press in front of the fireplace.
This bothered the disciples, just as it bothers me thousands of years later. He was a great young man with so much potential! Surely he could be a Christian?
That’s where the verse encircling my French press comes next in the passage: with God, this is possible. Not with man–no one is able to choose life on their own, and the more things we have to give up in life, the less we are able to choose it. But with God….In fact, we have no proof that the young man did not follow Jesus in the end. For all we know, it was the Apostle Paul. Okay, probably not. But we don’t know.
Like our stories, the young man’s story in Scripture is unfinished. But Jesus’ words cut through the fog to us as well as to him: We can’t follow Jesus if our source of life is wrapped in any possession, talent, or even discipline. There is no good deed I must do. Like our friend across the centuries, we ask the wrong questions over our steaming French press.
But it is possible to have them answered right anyway….with God.