Little Things That Shift the Narrative

Written By: Chris Mace
Little Things That Shift the Narrative
Island, Sullivan Harbor, Maine

While reveling in the  beauty of this tiny, mist surrounded island and its reflection in the bay, the distant, tiny image of an eagle scanning the water for its lunch had been missed. However, that significant detail changed the photo’s narrative into something rawer and less ethereal.

Somewhat similarly, our stressed and harried routines are so filled with demands and the needs of the moment that we frequently don’t contemplate life’s finer details, the missed opportunities, the significance of people who could change the complexion of our stories, or even of who we really are.

Three of the Gospels record Jesus’ interaction with a very rich, prestigious, young, religious, ruler who claimed to have kept the Mosaic Law since childhood. He appeared to have every possible human advantage for entering God’s Kingdom, but he still lacked assurance and wanted to know how to leverage his way into heaven. He had a question for Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to “inherit eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16-24) ( Mark 10:17-23) (Luke 18:16-27)  With laser accuracy in one startling statement, Jesus  addressed his false perceptions about God and the incorrect idea that eternal life is merited by rule keeping, moral integrity, and good works: “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me,” he said.

Jesus’ answer was shocking. Seemingly radical and harsh, his ideas were neither. He simply pointed out that the young man’s view of God was incomplete, lopsided. God’s grace is startling, surprising, unexpected! Even though it exposes our need for redemption and identifies previously unrecognized sins of pride and idolatry, calls out our depravity, and clarifies personal inadequacy to save oneself, God’s grace is actually about hope. It mercifully buoys us up, redeems us, and clothes us in the dignity and righteousness of Christ! We can do nothing to make God love us more than he already does! Attaining eternal life is a matter of faith. It is not about what one can do or must not do to attain it.

Receiving God’s grace through faith had always been God’s redemptive plan. The young man had missed that concept in his religious training. But among others, it had been true for Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, King David, and Nicodemus and would be for the Apostle Paul, the Philippian jailor, and all who would “call upon the Name of the Lord.” Paul would write Titus: “It is not by works of righteousness that we have done but by God’s mercy that He saves us.” (Titus 3:5) (Genesis 15:6) , (Ps 119:9), (Psalm 118:19:23), (John3), (Acts 2:21; 16:30-31)(Hebrews 11)

Jesus’s solution wasn’t that the redistribution of wealth or a vow of poverty would grant this fellow eternal life. Belief and repentance were the answers. This young man was not who he believed himself to be. Confused about his Law keeping, he was in violation of the two most important commandments. He neither loved God or his neighbor as he should and had raised  his wealth, status, and reliance on religious creeds and personal morality to an idolatrous level. Although there was no eternal benefit in what he treasured, he valued and trusted them more than God.  Turning from his materialism, casting aside pride, and trusting and following humble Jesus to the cross of self-denial were essential ingredients to a successful treasure hunt. To change the narrative, contrition, not a good deed, was required. Laying claim to an eternal inheritance meant identifying as a child of God, not as a self made man.

The answer to questions about eternal life has been sought and explored throughout the centuries but has been easily overlooked like the eagle in the photo because we live and ponder and seek in a context of muddled thoughts, theories, conjectures and deductions.   As pointed out by Christ, the reality is that eternal life is attained by God’s grace through faith. It is available to any and all who seek it.

If one heeds Christ’s specific invitation to follow him, we will not miss that most important treasure. Believe and live!

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