23 May, Monday – Rich Encumbrances

23 May

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1 Peter 1:3-9

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us a new birth as his sons, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, so that we have a sure hope and the promise of an inheritance that can never be spoilt or soiled and never fade away, because it is being kept for you in the heavens. Through your faith, God’s power will guard you until the salvation which has been prepared is revealed at the end of time. This is a cause of great joy for you, even though you may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials; so that, when Jesus Christ is revealed, your faith will have been tested and proved like gold – only it is more precious than gold, which is corruptible even though it bears testing by fire – and then you will have praise and glory and honour. You did not see him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.

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Mark 10:17-27 

Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were astounded by these words, but Jesus insisted, ‘My children,’ he said to them ‘how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were more astonished than ever. ‘In that case’ they said to one another ‘who can be saved?’ Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ he said ‘it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.’

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There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own

Imagine this: You are being wheeled into the operating theatre of a hospital about to undergo a high-risk surgery. Just before the Anaesthetists puts you under, he looks steadily at you and gently asks: Do you trust God?

Maybe this comes from my personal experience, having once undergone a frightful lower spine surgery in my mid-twenties, at the prime of my life. Sometimes I return to the memory of losing my health, my mobility, or worst, my life. For better or worse, that experience liberated me greatly when I realised ‘the life that I now live no longer is my own’ (Galatians 2:20). I did not know what would be at the other end of my tunnel, but I knew that should I meet Jesus, I wanted to run towards Him and not cower in fear. I knew too that should I wake up to a less-abled me, I desired that my faith would ‘have been tested and proved like gold – only it is more precious than gold…’ (1 Peter 1:7) and I could continue to glorify and honour God through my life lived courageously. The surgery was a success and I had little to worry about other than to regain my strength and mobility. I am completely healthy today; yet, in some ways, I have to acknowledge the post-trauma stress that still lingers like a blur fingerprint on the windshield.

When things are going super well, when blessings come my way, I struggle with claiming these fully with confidence and childlike joy. At the back of my mind, I wonder: What if the rug gets pulled from under me? If I might lose this too, I may as well not desire it too much. My fear of loss overwhelms my delight and trust in God.

This is why I feel so much for this poor rich man who went away sadly. Because, some days, I think I just might be him. Jesus told him, ‘There is one thing you lack: Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ It sounds paradoxical. The very things the man owned, were the cause of his poverty. His possessions personified his lack of identification with the underprivileged, the homeless, the outcasts, the wandering Jesus, whom he was seeking eternal life from.

Without losing these encumbrances, he could not follow the straight and narrow path that Jesus walks.

What then are these encumbrances? It is personal and specific for each of us. If the rich man emptied his money bags to the poor, and collected in these bags joy and gratitude instead of gold coins, imagine how light his ‘baggage’ would be!

While God does not delight in taking away our wealth, health, or achievements in order to purify our faith as purer than gold, we need to be aware that these material things can cause us to sin by pride and self-reliance. Modern-day memes of ‘You are what you eat/wear/buy’ are the poison that props up our rocky self-belief systems.

Had the rich man understood that eternal life was not a ‘life forever with all the gold and silver he possessed and more’ but the fullness of love, joy, peace, and communion with the King of Glory Himself, he might not have left sad. Alas, his units of measure were still tainted and limited by material terms.

On my end, I have to cut lose the spectre of fear of losing my health again and trust wholeheartedly that my God is a generous and good God who gives me what I need, when I need it (Matthew 6:25-34). He sustains me not only in my physical body, but more importantly, in my spiritual being. I am afterall both flesh and spirit – but of paramount value, only my spirit will live on with Him even as my flesh shall one day surely weaken and perish.

Do I trust God? Yes, and yet, Lord, I pray you keep on helping me with my unbelief! Just as Saint Peter assures us: ‘still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.’ (1 Peter 1:9)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for all who suffer from life-threatening illness, chronic health issues, persecution for their faith. We join our prayers with the universal church for all who are suffering and in need of redemption and freedom from addiction in their lives.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for treating all our weaknesses and inhibitions to follow you firmly with so much compassion and patience and love.

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