I love what Mark Twain once said: “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” Yep, I know what he means. I squirm under the light of someone who’s life radiates a goodness I so often wish I had and all too often do not!
My best friend use to say that “No life is a total waste; it can always serve as a bad example!
But what about the good examples in our lives? What do we do with them? Do we even know how powerful a good example can be? How you answer those questions invites you to know yourself, and that’s where the “annoyance” kicks in!
Look at our lesson today in Mark 10:17-27:
At that time, as Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
The truth is I’m annoyed by the good in others only when I refuse to allow God to form the good in me through repentance and obedience. Their good example confronts me with my stubborn embrace of mediocrity and selfish living.
But there is a way out of this spiritual prison, and it has everything to do with the confrontation Jesus has with this young man in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus reacts in a surprising way to this young man’s “compliment” because that’s what the young man needs! This is a pious young man. He is a faithful follower of the rules! And he needs to be confronted with the very sad reality that true goodness isn’t about rule-keeping, but something much deeper!
And that much deeper reality is the honest acceptance of my own need for God’s mercy. Now, before you shake your head in agreement with this too quickly, please understand what I mean. For most of my life I live every day as if I am self-sufficient. I make choices based on my own “wisdom.” I set my priorities based on my own self-interest. I decide that something is “good” or “not good” based on how this or that thing or situation makes me “feel” or how I perceive that it affects me. In other words, most of my life is lived with the false notion that I am at the center of my life! And that, dear friends, is why I am a slave to my passions. That is why, like the young man in today’s lesson, when I am confronted with Jesus and His reality check that I only lack “one thing” that I go away sorrowful, just like this young man. God knows my foolish dependence on my own strength and abilities will always let me down!
Today, are you basically functioning as if you are the center of your life? No wonder you keep stumbling in the darkness of the delusion of your own self-sufficiency! It’s time to embrace the hard work of that One thing that you lack. Abandon the false notion that your everyday life can be lived as if God isn’t important to you and embrace being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Jesus, my life is so very cluttered with distractions that draw me away from You. Too often my faith is on auto-pilot and I stumble into fear or anger or temptation because I’m distracted by my own selfishness. Please help me today to stay focused and attentive to You so that I won’t stumble. Amen