Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Quote the Raven

When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the LORD's order and did not set out. — Numbers 9:19

Early in my alleged adult life, we moved a lot. In those days I could load the big stuff in the back of a full-size pickup. For the small, breakable things that needed protection, I would borrow my sister's 1970-ish Bonneville, the trunk of which would hold an entire Geo Metro, if broken down, and they usually were. As I got older and tended to stay in one place for more than two months, I began to accumulate belongings. I remember the first time I had to rent a truck to move our possessions. I've rented several since then, each one getting a little bigger. More than once I've had a car full of junk on a trailer behind the truck.

During their wanderings in the wilderness, the Israelites never had this problem. They were nomads — like the Indians of the Great Plains or the Bedouins Lawrence led against the Germans and Ottoman Turks. As far as the Tabernacle went, each of the major family lines in the tribe of Levi had specific tasks and assignments for which they were responsible when the Tent of Meeting had to be moved. Sometimes, the cloud remained in one spot for a long time; sometimes, they were in a place only overnight. It didn't matter. The idea was to follow the cloud.

There are probably some of us who have difficulty when things move too fast. Some of the Israelites likely complained, "I was just starting to like this place." There are folks who thrive on routine, who like to cut a groove and wear it smooth. I'm like that about some things. Don't mess with my coffee pot. I get up at more or less the same time every morning wherever I am, whatever is going on, regardless of how late I was up the night before, weekend, weekday, it doesn't matter. I am a regular guy.

Others of us like to think we are going somewhere, exploring strange, new worlds, living on the cutting edge, always moving forward. Among the tribes of Israel, there were probably many who got a little weary of waiting for a move after a week or two weeks or six months. Certain churches and ministers are always talking about a fresh anointing, fresh fire, a new move of God. I sympathize with those folks, too. I get bored easily with routine work. I like to learn new things, acquire new skills, face fresh challenges. I don't mind revisiting something I've mastered, but I like to push it a little.

The routine has its dangers. When the cloud stays in one place too long, there is a risk that we might forget about the cloud altogether. We get so used to seeing it hanging over the same old spot all the time that we don't really see it at all. If it moves on, will we notice?

Many years ago a pastor friend of ours told us that we had a "raven ministry" — it was an explanation we needed. When Elijah had prophesied against Ahab and the apostasy of Israel, he called for an extended drought on the land (1 Kings 17). Then he retreated to the Wadi Cherith through which flowed a little brook. The prophet drank from the brook, and, twice a day, ravens would fly in carrying bread and meat they had picked up somewhere. Notice these were ravens, not angels. The common raven is a large, black bird known to be good at problem-solving, omnivorous and opportunistic in feeding, and liable to become a pest. Except for the black part, that's me. Ravens are not clean birds, that is, Jews should not eat ravens, which are also known to feed on carrion when they get the chance. Chickens that pick grain out of cow manure are fine, but not ravens.

Anyway, that's what we did, as the Spirit of God led us, we moved from place to place and brought spiritual food to God's people, especially to His weary and fainting prophets. It was a pretty cool thing to walk into a church and have the pastor almost run up to us and say, "I see you are in the ministry." Of course, the downside was that, usually, we were just there to help them move on down the road. The little wet-weather stream in Elijah's Wadi is going to dry up, and he is going to have to get up and go. The ravens go back to minding their own business and looking for roadkill. The pastor might be glad to see us, but, ultimately, we were a sort of "bad sign".

I'm not saying it wasn't tough to make friends, to share meals with people, to learn to love them then, one day, experience a painful break and realize our work was done in that place. Four or five times this happened in the course of about eight years. Recently I ran into a couple we had met during our time as ravens. They barely remembered us. My wife talked too much — she never could quite let go of a place or of the people. It was almost as if they had been hit with the Men In Black machine that wipes away memory. As she reminded them of this or that, I could see they were fighting against it, as if it were forbidden. She gave them our phone number, and, at Christmas, she insisted we send them a card. We'll never hear from them again.

So there are advantages and disadvantages to being a raven, but the one thing about it was that I was always paying attention to the cloud. The brook has dried up. I glance over my shoulder. The cloud is moving. This is our last delivery.

I'm glad I don't have to do the raven thing any more. You're not allowed to not love them. That's the bread and meat. If you don't love them, there's no point in showing up. You leave a little piece of your heart in four or five church foyers — come to think about it, it was closer to seven. A shattered, scattered heart. Fifteen or sixteen years after, we happened to fly by one of those Wadi Cherith's where the prophet had been and where the cloud had touched down. It was a little while before the evening service started, and we didn't have time to stay, but we walked into the big front door. In a case on the wall there were names we knew and pictures we recognized. I asked about one and was told he was gone to his reward. I asked about another and received an uncomprehending shake of the head. As I looked around I couldn't hide the tears, like rain in the dry season. The auditorium would soon be filled. The stream runs strong. But an old raven is just a pest in this place now.

And I have a cloud to catch.

Friday, January 21, 2011

We'll Go Quietly

I hate to even appear to disagree with the Townhall folks, but I really don't feel like being civil. The whole issue is bogus, and the right-wing talkers are stupid for taking the bait.

The violence in Tucson, or anywhere else for that matter, has nothing to do with a lack of civility. I have no problem with Palin "targeting" or with Obama saying "if they bring a knife, we bring a gun". In fact, I would say to the left, "Please bring your guns, figurative or literal, I really don't care."

They call us racists; they call us "homophobes"; they call us stupid. I call them demagogues, traitors, thieves, and cowards. Put up or shut up.

There's nothing uncivil about insisting that the government adhere to the Constitution. That's what it is for - to grant very limited and specific powers to the government and to expressly and clearly delineate the boundaries over which no law, no government, no official, no bureaucrat, no executive, or no legislator may cross without penalty.

The Constitution is the supreme law of this land. No man or woman is above it, and no one is supposed to get special privileges. Honest, hard-working people give up their lives piece by piece every day in this country to try and make things just a little better for their families and their children. The Constitution is supposed to protect them and their property from being stolen and despoiled by governments, groups, and individuals who think it's all right to take what belongs to someone else. Instead the government uses the Constitution and the political structure daily as cover for blatant and unconstitutional intrusions into the lives and property of Americans.

I'm not even picking on Barack Hussein Obama, although my dog would make a better president, if she were eligible. There's plenty of blame to go around as these alleged powers-that-be think it's acceptable to, every year, erode our rights a little further, do a little more to steal or destroy our life-savings, to stick their fingers a little further up our butts in their incessant incrementalism. To hell with them and their encroachment. We have already been too damn nice.

The late, great country comedian Jerry Clowers used to tell a story about his cousin, Marcel Ledbetter. He called it "Marcel's Talkin' Chainsaw". I haven't looked, but it's probably on Youtube somewhere. It's been a while since I've heard it. In brief it went something like this:

Marcel had been out cutting logs, and he was tired and thirsty. The county where Marcel lived in Mississippi was dry, but there was a little "beer joint" just across the county line, not far from where he'd been logging. Marcel had his logs loaded and was really wanting a nice, cold soda, so he stopped outside the little bar and went in. The bartender immediately started talking down to Marcel and bad-mouthing him. He told Marcel to get some shoes and a shirt, told him to get out of the bar, and he called poor ol' Marcel a redneck. Marcel turned and walked out the door, bare feet poked by the gravel, hot and sweaty and still thirsty. On the truck, he had, as Jerry would say, "one a' them light weight McCulloch chainsaws". Marcel fired up his chainsaw and walked back to the door of the bar. It was a screen door, and Marcel didn't bother to open it. He just stuck the blade of that saw in and cut him out a hole to walk through. He then proceeded to saw up tables and chairs and generally wreck havoc upon the place. Jerry summed it up in his last line, "They gave Marcel the beer joint."

All we want is a chance to lay down honest money to quench an honest, hard-earned thirst. The state-run media, the politicians, the insiders, and the corporate conglomerates with their feet up on the table and a beer in hand in the middle of a working day mock us when we come in for looking for an RC or a Nesbitt Orange. Their bought-and-paid-for political minions have created the rules they want, and that they may transgress with impunity. But they throw their Calvin-ball statutes and regulations in our faces and tell us to go on down the road. They tell us to be "civil".

The truth is civilization is not a natural state, any more than a well-kept lawn is a natural state. Sometimes it requires a little trimming. Boys, maybe it's time you talked to Mr. McCulloch.

We'll go quietly ... to the truck.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

You Don't Have to Live Like a Refugee

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to Him. - Jonah 1:15-16

It is often said that the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is one of the greatest short stories ever written. Perhaps that's true, but there are many powerful vignettes in the Bible, and the story of Jonah, while also brief, is multifaceted and of great depth. It is usually summarized as "Jonah and the Whale"; however, the whale or the great fish, while a vital element of the plot, is not the antagonist. Jesus conveys the significance of Jonah when He says that the only "sign" which will be given to the unbelieving is the "sign of Jonah". That is, as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so the Son of Man shall be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ constitute the Gospel and the foundation of the Kingdom.

Jonah was a prophet - one who spoke for God and by God. One day he received a commission from the LORD to go to Israel's most imminently threatening enemy located at the royal city of Nineveh in Assyria. Jonah was supposed to tell the Ninevites to repent and thus avoid destruction. Since he hated the Assyrians and knew that they would destroy Israel at some point in the future, he really didn't want Nineveh to turn to God. Instead of heading for Nineveh, he obtained passage on a ship headed west from Joppa to Tarshish. This is roughly equivalent to a man in Phoenix having been told to go to San Francisco immediately booking a flight to Miami.

On the way, the ship bearing Jonah in the wrong direction encountered a massive storm. As the sailors struggled valiantly to remain afloat, Jonah slept peacefully below the deck. Finally in great distress, the crew attempted to find out the cause of their impending demise by casting lots. Jonah, by this time, had been roused and brought up among them. The lot fell upon Jonah who explained that he was indeed the cause of their dire predicament and the only solution was to cast him overboard - an action which the decent, though pagan men of the ship were reluctant to carry out.

Now it was not true that the only solution was for Jonah to be relinquished to the sea. He could have simply said that he repented and would go willingly to Nineveh on his mission. The storm would have ceased, and the ship could have returned safely to Joppa delivering Jonah to his foreordained destination. The truth was that Jonah was so hard-headed that he would rather die - and possibly take the whole crew with him - than go and preach repentance to the Assyrians. His fear was not that he would fail but that he would succeed and the city be spared judgment.

I don't know where the most ancient forefathers of my Celtic ancestors originated, but it would not surprise me in the least to find that the Scots-Irish are descended from Jonah himself. Certainly his spirit is upon us.

As evidenced by the text quoted above, pitching the disobedient preacher overboard resulted in revival. Some churches and some preachers might want to give this truth careful consideration.

Jonah fully expected to die. He was prepared to die. You might even say he was determined to die. He was certainly determined not to go to Nineveh. What he did not understand is that no one - no one ever succeeds in mocking God. It is always the mocker who is mocked. He could not anticipate being intercepted on the way down by a whale on a mission. After seventy-two hours entombed in fish guts, Jonah finally realized - as I see it - that he was not going to get away with anything, not even by death. The Lord refused to allow him to dissolve into that primordial chaos of non-existence that the sea represents. The only option for Jonah was to remain in "hell" - immobilized in a living death - or to repent and do that which he had been called to do.

Do you really think God has a problem with waterboarding?

Eventually Jonah was cast up, that is to say, hurled onto a beach in the general vicinity of Nineveh. I have heard preachers get considerable mileage out of painting the image of a bleached-out, wild-eyed prophet in really acid-washed, sea-weed-covered clothes charging through Nineveh screaming, "Repent!" Does it seem strange that they took him seriously? We should not, however, allow ourselves to be misled as to the actual basis of the convicting power of Jonah's message.

Could God not have found a more compliant prophet? Did He have to pick out the one guy who just absolutely hated the Assyrians so much that he'd rather die himself than see them spared? This would be equivalent to sending a Jew to save the Third Reich, or having a black person work to preserve the Klu Klux Klan. That alone would be good evidence that the messenger had really heard from God - or that he was genuinely and completely insane.

Still, far beyond the natural, the Lord had added to His prophet a higher dimension of testimony - one so powerful and irresistible that Jonah became a type of Christ and prophesied, not just of the need for repentance in Nineveh, but of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead. Jonah's "resurrection" from a virtual hell foreshadowed Christ's conquest of death, hell, and the grave. The power of Jonah's call for a turning around on the part of the Ninevites was underscored by his own miraculous deliverance from death. This is the power and authority by which he preached and saw an entire heathen nation humble itself in sackcloth and ashes, to cry for mercy to the True and the Living God.

In the end, Jonah was right, of course. God did hear, relent, and spare Nineveh the judgment it so richly deserved - in Jonah's eyes. He was angry, and he told the Lord as much. "I knew what kind of God You are," he said. "You're just far too merciful and compassionate. Why don't You kill me?"

God responded with a question. "Have you any right to be angry?" I don't know what Jonah said, but I can imagine there's a reason it isn't printed in the Bible.

The prophet went out into the countryside east of Nineveh, perhaps on a little hill so he'd have a good view just in case fire and brimstone did fall on the city. He built a little shelter there, determined to stay, still hoping that God would destroy his enemies. As he waited, a vine wound its way over the top of Jonah's lean-to and provided him with a bit of welcome shade from the relentless sun and scorching wind. This made Jonah happy. But a worm came along and bored its way into the vine causing it to wither and die. Once again Jonah was exposed to the heat, the blazing sun and the scorching wind which made his life miserable and left him wishing he were dead. God asked the prophet if he had a right to be angry about the loss of his vine, and Jonah responded (we're getting used to this) that not only did he have every right to be ticked off, but that he was (again) angry enough to die.

The Lord pointed out to Jonah that the whole vine thing really wasn't too big a deal. The vine sprang overnight and gave him shelter only to subsequently die overnight leaving him no worse off than he had been before. Jonah had no part in causing the vine to prosper or to die, yet its demise had thrown him into a near suicidal depression. God, on the other hand, was concerned about the destiny of tens of thousands of human beings within the walls of Nineveh. He described those He cared for as "not knowing their right hand from their left" - indicating, perhaps, children numbering 120,000. In addition, there were many animals -- also part of God's creation -- which could be viewed as innocent even if the rulers of Nineveh were wicked and deserving of judgment.

There are a number of lessons we can take from Jonah's story. One is that God is reluctant to destroy the righteous with the wicked. Jesus confirms this in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. Some of us might assume that God could send a very specific plague that would only strike the wicked. The trouble, I think, is that God is not evil Himself and when He decides that evil must be unleashed in judgment there is great potential for collateral damage. This is further evidence of the existence of free will within the cosmos.

But the main point I take from Jonah's misadventures is a very personal one. Like Jonah I am reluctant at times to obey God. My disobedience does not cut me off from God's presence - not on His side. I am rather like the child who covers his eyes and thinks he is hidden from his parent. Nevertheless, like Jonah, I am inclined to stubbornness and to persist in my determination to thwart God. I know that seems crazy, but it is true - and I don't think I'm the only one. There's a certain (false) sense of power to be gained in thinking that I might be in control of something, even when it is to my own detriment. Even if it buries me in hell.

As we saw with Jonah, persisting in my rebellion does not free me, but entombs me. I become encased in a body that is not mine - which is to say, not true, and that is not under my control. My seeking after control robs me of control. This is one way to understand Romans 7:24 when Paul speaks of "this body of death". It is depicted by C.S. Lewis in the scene from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Eustace is trapped in the body of a dragon and Aslan methodically rips the dragon body apart in order to free the boy from what amounts to a tomb of flesh.

The way of escape from this living tomb is repentance. All Jonah did, literally, was change his mind about God's plan. He did not take over his living submarine's guidance system. He did not cut his own way out of the fish's belly, fight his way to the surface, and commandeer a passing dolphin to take him to shore. He prayed and agreed that he would go in the direction that God had ordained for him. I don't need to perform great feats of power. I don't need to perform noble acts of self-sacrifice or self-abasement. All I need to do is talk to God and admit that my path has been wrong and that I am, after all, just a bit hard-headed. I need to pray and agree and obey. There is no call here for spiritual superheroes.

An equally personal secondary point can be taken from Jonah's actions after he had obeyed God and gone to Nineveh. Despite his deliverance from the body of sin, Jonah still wanted his way about things. He went out and built himself a very crude and inadequate shelter. He refused to move on with his life. He continued to believe, you might say, for the destruction of his enemies. Even knowing he had obeyed and done the right thing, Jonah was reluctant to leave the scene of his "defeat". I appreciate Jonah's presence in Scripture. This is a man with whom I can identify. I don't like to give up and move on. I think sometimes that God should look out for me even when I persist in pursuing an end that is clearly contrary to His will and intention. Like Jonah, I get angry when God tries to motivate me to "get on down the road" - physically, psychically, or spiritually. I always think that I can somehow get my way in the end.

This was God's final lesson to Jonah in the book that bears his name. There was no reason for Jonah to suffer out in the elements, to be tortured by the heat. He could have stayed in Nineveh, at least for a time, and enjoyed the hospitality of a grateful people. Or he could have gone back to wherever he had been living in relative comfort before his trip started. The Lord did not send Jonah out on the ridge to sit and nurse his grudge. If I find myself in a spiritually inconvenient and inhospitable place, if I am beset by mental suffering, depression, anxiety, anger, or fear, it might be a good idea for me to consider who put me in that place. If I did it myself, and if it is only my hostility, hatred, anger, or willfulness that keeps me there, I might be wise to get up and move instead of cursing the barrenness and unpleasantness of my habitation.

Instead of crying over dead weeds of the past, let's go find ourselves an apple tree.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Means of Grace

For by grace are you saved through faith, and it is not from yourselves; it is a gift of God - Ephesian 2:8

(A member of my family gave birth to a baby boy some months ago — J.H., we'll call him. He was born with a number of physical problems. It was clear that he was not going to live very long. The family prayed for miracles. Within a very few hours of birth, he passed on. A few days ago, J.H.'s sister, only five or so herself came down with a cold. She asked, "Am I going to die like my baby brother?" As winter settles in, the family has lots of time, too much time, to think about their loss. They ask why, and this is my stuttering, stumbling answer.)

Most of us don't understand grace. We think of it as something ephemeral, a sort of attitude that God has toward us by which He says, "You're OK." In fact, grace is a power and a form of wisdom and, sometimes, an immovable object as solid as a mountain. Grace is a gift, and faith is our response to it. It is not a state of mind any more than life is a state of mind.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase "the means of grace". In most theological teaching, the means of grace include studying the Scriptures, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, doing good works, sacrificing for others, perhaps being baptizing and receiving communion. Though grace is a free gift, it must be appropriated into our lives. We must recognize it, respond to it, even pursue it.

God does not limit the means of grace to the usual and the general. He deals with us as individuals. He knows our weaknesses and our strengths - and He knows that sometimes our strength needs more grace to overcome than our weakness. To this end, He sends specific things into our lives. These may be seen at first as blessings, or as trials, or even curses. They are never meant for evil, though they may have an evil appearance. It may be said of some of them that they are "of the devil", but this is not true, and, if we will hold to faith, we will see that they are from God's hand, meant only for our transformation, conduits of grace into our lives.

J.H. was a means of grace. It's not hard to say that of his birth, but his death seems to be an evil thing, perhaps, at best, a senseless thing, a thing that makes those who knew him ask, Why, and to ask it over and over again. Was God not powerful enough to give J.H. life? Did God not care about the broken hearts of J.H.'s family? If God did not intend for him to live, why did He give this little life at all only to snatch it away so cruelly?

I am not God, and I dare not answer for Him. I can say beyond doubt that J.H. entered joyously into the presence of Christ, whole and triumphant, peaceful and untainted, pure and sweet. He never knew disappoint or rejection. He never wept over a loss. He was never afraid. He never experienced darkness. All he knew was light.

But what of us? We still feel the pain of his being wrenched from us. We wonder if he was taken away because we failed in some way. We question if there was anything we could have done to get God to listen and leave him with us. We hear the mocking words of the enemy that it was all just random and meaningless, only proof that God does not exist or does not know or does not care.

J.H. was a means of grace, a way of giving us insight into the heart of God, a brief, blazing light illuminating the uncertain and dark corners of our souls. A knife in our hearts? Yes. But not the cruel blade of the butcher. It is the scalpel of the skilled surgeon who heals us by His wounding. He must open our hearts in pain that He might remove those obstructions that block and hinder the flow of His life through ours.

Let's not be so full of pride and self-righteousness that we think there is no evil thing within us threatening to grow and choke out the life of Christ.

Let us not be so childish as to accuse God of punishing us when He loves us and wants only to make us whole.

Let us not blame ourselves for that with which we were born as part of Adam's race.

There was nothing we can do to heal ourselves any more than we could save ourselves apart from God’s own Son who volunteered to die on the cross that we might live. Somebody had to be the Instrument of our salvation; somebody had to be the means of our grace. J.H. followed in the footsteps of Jesus.

If he could speak to us today, he might say, "But even if I am poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you" (Philippians 2:17).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Seeing that he became sad, Jesus said, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." — Luke 18:24-25

A rich man's wealth is his fortified city — Proverbs 10:15a

My favorite really rich person is probably Scrooge McDuck. Scrooge enjoys his vast reservoir of gold coins by diving into the pile and burrowing through it. He seems to love the money for itself, but he also is in competition with others. As someone said, "Money is just the way to keep score." That attitude seems pretty common in the world as people seek status and worth by having more than their neighbors. Aside from a miserly or competitive accumulation of it, there's nothing wrong with having money. It solves a lot of problems.

I paid cash for the first new vehicle that I bought myself. It was a small, 2-wheel drive pickup with no frills. Eventually my wife, who actually had a credit score, bought a car on which we had to make payments. Once that cycle starts, it can be hard to break, but we managed to eventually catch up so we could pay cash again for the last three or four. Writing a substantial check for a large purchase like a car or a grand piano can give a person a sense of power and exhilaration, of security — like the "fortified city" of the proverb. In my case, the exhilaration evaporates rapidly when I look at what's left in the account. I'm certainly not in Uncle Scrooge's class. If I turned all my assets into gold coins, I would not require the McDuck Money Bin or even a small safe to contain them. In fact, I'm pretty sure I have a coffee cup that would hold them all.

Wealth does not make people evil nor does poverty make us good. The story goes that the day Bat Masterson died, he had written these words: There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose these ginks who argue that way hold that because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I'll swear I can't see it that way. Wealth makes life a little easier for us. It helps keep us cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It fills in the potholes and gives us a smoother ride. It is to be expected that when a difficulty is encountered in life, we address it with the resources at hand. As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you have money, the temptation may be to buy your way out of a tough situation. Occasionally that is fine, but there are times when God is calling on us, when intrusions into our lives are covered with His fingerprints, when He means for us to be altered, purged, or strengthened by the trial we face.

The point Jesus makes is that money has a tendency to keep us from developing - or perhaps undeveloping, becoming again as a little child in order to enter the kingdom. God doesn't do means testing; He does test us by our means. If we trust in possessions or power rather than the Person of Christ, our door to the kingdom is shut and locked — by us. If we are not careful, we will, like the rich, young ruler, fail to open the door when we hear One knocking.

The young man's problem was not that he was a bad person. He was doing many of the right things. Jesus asked him to distribute all of his wealth, but there can be little doubt that this man, in pursuing righteousness, was already giving alms and paying his tithe at the temple. There is no indication that he was greedy. His only disqualification was that he was "very sorrowful for he was very rich". It was not that he did not have faith in God or that he did not desire to please God. If he had no inclination toward God, he would never have approached Jesus at all. His obstacle was that he trusted money more than God. He believed that it was his wealth which gave him comfort and peace of mind. Yes, he wanted to be right with God for he knew that his life was not forever. He wanted to see the kingdom. He would have done almost anything Jesus asked of him — anything except put his faith in his Father first.

The Lord challenged the rich man to embrace a voluntary self-emptying, not unlike the one the Son Himself embraced by His Incarnation. He calls on all of us to follow Him in not clinging to our worldly wealth (Philippians 2:6). He does not ask all of us to sell all we have and give it away, but He does tell us not to hang on to it for dear life. Contrast Christ's plea to the rich, young ruler with this dramatic scene from the opening verses of Mark 14: While He was at Bethany ... reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of pure and expensive fragrant oil of nard. She broke the jar and poured it on His head. But some were expressing indignation to one another: "Why has this fragrant oil been wasted? For this oil might have been sold for more than 300 denarii and given to the poor." And they began to scold her.

Jesus, however, does not seem so concerned about the poor here. He silences the protesters and commends the woman's extravagant action as being noble and as her best effort to do what she could for Christ while He was with them. This oil was a great treasure to her, worth a year's wages — possibly it was her own "pearl of great price". Yet she breaks the container — no holding back — and lavishes it upon the Lord with joy, not sorrow.