I am the rich young man. I could list all the good deeds of mine, and the lack of so-called big sins. I could say, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” I could believe that I am actually working hard towards the goal. I could believe that I am giving it my all, that I am living the true Christian life.
But if I did, Jesus would be there to confront me. He would, like no one else can, show me how completely self-absorbed and cloistered I really am. Sure, I am mostly up to date with and contributing to the battlegrounds in front of me. I am aware of those I see. But Jesus says, “What about the ones that are not easy to see?” What about the janitors I pass? Do I even notice that they exist? What about the neighborhood of impoverished African Americans that live just down the road? What about the guard of the library? I see him at least three times a week, and I do not even know his name. He seems like a really nice guy! What about feeding the poor? What about the orphans and widows of the world? What about the brutality of North Korea? What about the genocide of abortion? What about the unspeakable evil of sex trafficking? What steps, however small, have I actually done to stop these things?
And then, I fight back. That is shaming language, no one can live up to that. It is perfectly normal and good to have certain levels of intimacy with some people and less with others. I am trying to love the people that are currently in my life right now. I am doing the right thing! I am doing the right thing! I don’t have time to help everyone. I care about my future family, so I have to do well in school. Their future is my vision, is that not the right way to live? I am trying to be simple, to be humble, to “not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” I try to see myself as small, is that not what You want? I am trying to lead the leaders, is that not more useful then leading the sheep?
Jesus listens to what I say, and there is a spark in His eye, and I can see that He loves me, but that I do not understand. He understands me, I do not understand Him, and He loves me. My head to the floor, He lays His hand on my shoulder, raises my eyes to meet His, and smiles. All my self-justification slips quietly away, and His grace becomes my righteousness. For a moment I do start to understand the Gospel. None of us really understands how we are supposed to live; isn’t that the whole point? Our little loves, our unassuming affections is what He wants. If this means caring for a person, a community, or a nation, it is good. Peace and joy fills me.
And finally, when I am in the midst of comfort, He meets me again. He tells me, “Not yet. You are not there yet. Keep going.” With joy, He urges me to continue yearning, to continue striving with every fiber. This is the mystery of Christian ethics.