By Joan Kessler
When I considered the gospel reading for this week, my memory went back to this story based on Leo Tolstoy’s Three Questions. It was a book that lived on my daughters’ bookshelf when they were growing up. There was something peaceful and reassuring about its message. Young Nickolai was distressed about matters of deep meaning and he went to the wisdom of his animal friends for his answers. But it isn’t until he encounters Leo the old turtle that he begins to make sense of his questions. He puts aside his questions and concern for himself and is present to the needs of those before him…he takes over the hard work of digging for Leo and then he risks his own wellbeing to rescue a mother panda and her cub. According to Leo, the answers to his questions were within him all along…he showed fortitude and perseverance and served others in their time of need. And how we long for our children and grandchildren to grow up knowing the same.
Today’s reading is one of those passages that is rather blunt and to the point. We don’t know the circumstances facing the young man, but we surmise he has questions about what he is to do and how he is to be…he seeks out Jesus, identifying him as the Good Teacher and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus isn’t bowled over by the flattery and tells him he lacks one thing…and that one thing is poverty. He is invited to give his wealth and status away; to give to the poor and follow him. It’s not a surprising answer coming from Jesus. But the man walked away sad because he had great wealth.
The Community Fridge has been open for one week and the joy this project has brought, no money can buy. People keep driving up to it and just giving food away. The other day, a beautiful black forest cake arrived…the next day it was gone, and I just think about what a lovely gift that was to someone or to a family. Mutual Aid, giving what you have and taking what you need, is a socio-economic model of exchange. Countless other items appear on a daily basis and every time I go to check on the Fridge, something is gone. No one is cleaning out the space and taking too much. It really plays by no rules or regulations…it just happens…with the basic need of food security being addressed in open and accessible ways. Amazing generosity…Someone should write that on a great big cake and just give it away!
This story is not about being good. It’s not about upholding the law. It’s not about wealth or status or looking good to the rest of the community. It’s about serving, taking a chance, and the really, really hard work of letting go of the things we cling to, those things we tell ourselves we can’t live without. Maybe we will ask the question of what is this one precious life all about…? Perhaps the desire for eternal life is not some otherworldly place after all…Maybe, it’s lasting life. Could it be living a life focused on matters of eternal importance…like picking up a shovel and helping a neighbor or bringing care and compassion to one who is hurting…. there will be our treasure, Jesus says. Money and wealth are not needed…just a willing heart.
As I wrestled with this passage from Mark’s gospel, I found myself also looking to the wisdom of Vincent Van Gogh who has been showing up a lot for me these past few months. When considering his own definition of the meaning of life, as one whom knew much adversity and suffering, wrote,
“I don’t know anything with certainty, but seeing the stars makes me dream. I dream my painting and I paint my dream. It is looking at things for a long time that ripens you and gives you a deeper meaning. Do not quench your inspiration and your imagination; do not become the slave of your model.
What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore. I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart. Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”
May it be so. Amen.