A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, 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 shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”
Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Laura and I both like to listen to what was once called “Books on Tape.” Now I guess they are books on download. The service we use for many of these is called Audible. Each month Audible has several free books to choose from. This month one of the books was C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.
I remember reading this classic but in the words of today’s youth – it has been a minute. (Meaning not any time recently.)
If you are not familiar with The Screwtape Letters Wikipedia provides the following information/summary:
The Screwtape Letters is a Christian apologetic novel by C. S. Lewis and dedicated to J. R. R. Tolkien. It is written in a satirical, epistolary style and while it is fictional in format, the plot and characters are used to address Christian theological issues, primarily those to do with temptation and resistance to it.
First published in February 1942, the story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter. The uncle's mentorship pertains to the nephew's responsibility in securing the damnation of a British man known only as "the Patient.”
In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis imagines a series of lessons in the importance of taking a deliberate role in Christian faith by portraying a typical human life, with all its temptations and failings, seen from devils' viewpoints. Screwtape holds an administrative post in the bureaucracy ("Lowerarchy") of Hell, and acts as a mentor to his nephew Wormwood, an inexperienced (and incompetent) tempter.
In the 31 letters which constitute the book, Screwtape gives Wormwood detailed advice on various methods of undermining God's words and of promoting abandonment of God in "the Patient,” interspersed with observations on human nature and on the Bible. In Screwtape's advice, selfish gain and power are seen as the only good, and neither demon can comprehend God's love for man or acknowledge human virtue.
It is amazing how true this story is even today – perhaps especially today. It seems every time I listen to another section of the book I find something new to “chew on.”
One of the “bigger chews” from the book is a quote in which Screwtape shares with Wormword thoughts about whether his “patient” should be allowed to participate in religion at all. Out of that comes the following quote which has stuck with me and made me think of the story of Jesus’s encounter with the Rich Ruler.
Screwtape writes, “If you can once get him (The Patient) to the point of thinking that ‘religion is all very well up to a point,’ you can feel quite happy about his soul. A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all- and more amusing.”
I think that a lukewarm faith is one of the temptations that confronts us all. It is so easy to be partially committed rather than “all in.” Unfortunately, the story from Luke 18 shows that God is not interested in partially committed followers. Its sort of like the famous scene from The Karate Kid when Pat Morita’s character, Mr. Miyagi, discusses with Ralph Macchio’s character, Daniel, about karate training and commitment.
“Daniel-san, must talk. Walk on road. Walk right side, safe. Walk left side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, [makes squish gesture] get squish, just like grape. Here karate, same thing. Either you karate do, yes, or karate do, no. You karate do, guess so, [makes squish gesture] just like grape.”
It sounds like Jesus talking to this Ruler. However, Daniel chooses to commit while the Ruler walks away.
I think Jesus was telling this man that being only moderately committed will not help him reach his goals. In essence, Jesus declares that you might as well spare yourself the effort if you are not going to do it right.
I think this text has been misused to say that we all need to give away our possessions if we are to follow Jesus. This could not be further from the truth. The truth is that Jesus is telling both this man and the crowd that they need to examine what might be keeping them from a full relationship with God. Jesus knows, just as Screwtape proclaims in his letters, that “A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all- and more amusing.”
Of course, the truth is we all have moments when we struggle with commitment. I think that is why the church is so important. As a family of faith, it helps to keep us accountable and focused on the main thing – loving and serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Through our worship, study, fellowship and mission we are reminded to keep the main thing the main thing, and in doing so we are reminded that even when things seem impossible—including our own commitment— it is indeed possible with God.