Monday, April 21, 2014

Grace for the Goody Two Shoes

For those who don't follow the Christian faith: I'm going to the Bible today. I've found over time this blog has morphed from autism observations to my own personal and spiritual musings. Thanks for bearing with me...or for moving along, whichever you end up doing.

I was reading the story of the rich young man. If you know the Bible, you've heard it. He's the guy who goes to Jesus and asks Him what he needs to do to get into the kingdom of heaven. He gives a run-down of all of the things he faithfully does (i.e. follows the commandments). Then Jesus gets him right where it hurts and tells him there's that one last thing he needs to do -- sell everything he has and give it to the poor.

What normally sticks in most people's minds when hearing the story is the way the man walks away sadly, and Jesus comments about how hard it is for a rich man to get into heaven. We tell this story to illustrate the way God knows our heart and motivations. Money isn't inherently evil, but wealth can easily serve as a crutch, as a sort of false security that eliminates our need to fully trust and give our lives over to God.

These things are all true, but the other day when reading one line jumped out at me. Here is the beginning of the story, from the NIV version in Mark 10:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good -- except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do no commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"

"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Jesus looked at him and loved him.


Somehow, I'd always seemed to jump over that part and gone straight to the shame. It's so easy to read this and shake your head. Poor, misguided man. Tsk, tsk. Except -- I've never really felt that way about the guy. Instead, in some ways I've felt almost as if we're kindred spirits.

In the Bible, there are lots of examples of people with obvious big flaws who make big mistakes; those with good hearts who go wrong with their choices and their behavior. And then there are fewer stories about people who do all the right things outwardly but struggle with issues in their hearts. They are usually not portrayed positively (the older brother in the prodigal son parable, and all of the Pharisees, immediately come to mind).

This scares me, because I have to admit I fit squarely into that latter category. I am the good girl who (almost) always did the right thing. I kept my parents happy. I didn't rock the boat. I got good grades. I didn't party. I went to college, got a job, got married, had kids, blah, blah, blah.

Some people think Christians are all about doing everything right, that "being religious" means being inoffensive, sanitized, boring, or cold. And some Christians do pride themselves in doing the "right" things, the way the Pharisees did about following the law.

But if you dig into the Bible you see there is immeasurable grace available for a multitude of sins and sinners, and the real problems are with those who have issues with their hearts. When he acknowledges his wrong, there's more grace for David the adulterer than for the so-called "good" people in Jesus' time who clung stubbornly to unbelief.

Or that's how it's seemed, when I read. And I've wondered: what about the people like me, who have never smoked a cigarette but can cling to unforgiveness and resentment for years? What about people like me, who have always attended church but to this day struggle with doubt and unbelief? What about those of us who never got into any kind of real trouble but secretly boiled with envy or judged mercilessly? Who served God outwardly but clung to their own private idols, their own gods (like food or money or approval from others) to fulfill their deepest needs?

Then I read this story. And I see that Jesus didn't shame this man. Yes, He tells the others it's extremely difficult for a man depending on riches to get into the kingdom of heaven, but he doesn't wag a finger at him. He just tells him what to do. Give it all up.

Jesus looked at him and loved him. He looked at him and saw everything that no one else could see. And He still loved him. He loved his earnestness at wanting to do the right thing even as this man was not completely giving over his heart, was misrepresenting what was going on inside him. Even when he hadn't acknowledged, yeah God, I'm holding back from you a little bit.

I'm no theologian. I have no idea if there's any true merit to these insights. But they meant something to me. And maybe they will strike a chord with someone else.

The rich young man brings me hope. There is grace for the goody two shoes. And it's there before I know I need it.

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