Jesus, Amir, and Mo
November 23, 2017
There’s a story about an ambitious and curious young man, (let’s call him Amir) who tracked Jesus down to ask him the question that occasionally haunts us all – “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells Amir something he already knows – that he must be diligent to keep all the commandments – and I imagine Amir is disconcerted and a little impatient with that answer. “I know that, and I have obeyed them my whole life,” he replied, “But what am I lacking?” Jesus tells Amir the one thing he does not want to hear – “Go and sell everything you have – give the money to the poor – and come follow me.” Amir walks away from Jesus with his soul in turmoil, because he had many possessions. He walks away to consider what it could mean to give up his wealth in order to gain everlasting life.
Most folks desert Amir here, painting him as a shallow fellow who did not have the courage to follow Jesus when it would cost him something. But I wonder about that. What if Amir went away sad because he now understood what the cost would be? What if he went away to count that cost, and to initiate the distribution of all his worldly goods? What if he went away grieved because he was giving up not only his possessions, but his lifestyle, his relationships, and his reputation? What if his meeting with Jesus gave him the audacity to be his authentic, undisguised self? What if he was finally willing to give up what he could not keep (his stuff), to gain what he could not lose (full and everlasting life)?
Jesus was calling Amir to be a pilgrim – to journey open-handed, open-hearted, and unencumbered. I’m no Amir – but I do know what it is to be grieved at Jesus’ calling, and heartbroken at the prospect of giving up possessions, lifestyle, relationships, and reputation. I know what it is to walk sadly away from Jesus, afraid of leaving the known and comfortable for the unpredictable and precarious. I know what it is to wring my hands at the thought of letting go of so much that is certain when my future consists of only calling and mystery.
It was a snowy November day in 2013 that I set off on a 1500 mile journey to find my own ‘New World.’ A pilgrim – whether making a Mayflower voyage, or moving to a little cabin in the North Georgia woods – must decide what to carry, and what to cast aside. After days of sorting, packing, donating, and discarding things that crowded my soul, I had pared my life down to six boxes of books, some clothes, and my artwork. I felt light and unhindered, full of a new and bittersweet freedom – and to be honest, no little fear. I imagine Amir felt the same way – the relief of a deliberate letting go to embrace the joy in the journey. Amir walked away from Jesus sadly at the thought of the casting aside all that was familiar and easy, but he walked back to Jesus with empty hands, and alongside him with a full and grateful heart.
This story is for all of us, this week of Thanksgiving. I invite you to listen for Jesus’ invitation to walk in the pilgrim’s way – to look around your life with new eyes – and to consider the things you will keep and the things you must leave behind. What hobbles your soul, taxes your body, and rattles your brain? What weighs you down, making you unfit for a life of pilgrimage? What futility must you lay aside in order to become an authentic, undisguised pilgrim? Amir’s story is ours – Jesus says, “You obey all the rules? Good. Now Amir, (or Mona) let go your white-knuckled grip on your vain treasures – and open up your hands to both pour out your life – and to receive the riches that you can never lose.” Selah