One day as we were going through our vocabulary, we ran across the word doulos. In our text book it said the word meant slave or servant. Well this lit Rick’s fuse and he went on a tear. He told us we should NEVER translate this word as “servant” because in our context and culture, to be a servant has a voluntary connotation and being a doulos in the first century Roman Empire was NOT voluntary in any way shape or form. I’ll never forget him saying, “If you were a doulos, you were a slave. Somebody owned you Jack!” Somebody owned you Jack! That still rings in my ears. Who or what owns you? Who or what claims you?
In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the story of a young man’s encounter with Jesus. I really don’t like our modern Bibles because many of them have headings that are spoilers. If I learned anything from my time in LA hanging out at the Comedy Story, it’s how to deliver the punch line. The headings in our Bibles totally mess up the punch line Mark intended because they call this the story of the “Rich Young Man.” This totally messes up the impact of the story. Look at it again … Mark does not tell you the man is wealthy initially. All we see is a man who comes up and kneels before Jesus and says, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus reminds him only God is good and then basically says, “You know the drill” – you know the commandments and then he rattles off some of God’s top 10. The man replies in essence, “I’ve been doing all that since I was a kid!” Jesus looks at him and loves him. He really does love him … but he also sees his spiritual illness. “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” It is now that Mark delivers the punch line: “When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” He had a lot of stuff.
What owned him? His stuff … he couldn’t imagine letting go of his property … and he turns away from Jesus. I think it’s important to note that Jesus doesn’t run after him to renegotiate the deal. There is no negotiation with God. This man had placed his trust in his stuff and the security it provided him. And when we misplace that trust, we enter into unhealthy attachments to the object we now trust. Those objects can take many forms: people, ideas, things. Those unhealthy attachments have a name … addictions.
I’ve been revisiting one of my favorite books by Gerald May entitled Addiction and Grace. I usually read it about once a year as a chance for me to reflect on my addictions. We often only narrowly define addiction in terms of drugs or alcohol; however, as May points out, to be human is to be addicted because we constantly find ourselves placing ultimate trust in things other than God. Some addictions are just more socially acceptable and subtle than others – but they are still addictions. Mine tend to be over things like achievement, over-functioning, the sense of security my investments falsely give me, my need to be in control, and my daily caffeine fix. The man in today’s story was addicted to his stuff, his need to be in control and likely the false sense of security which possessions tend to provide. He walks away from Jesus instead of confronting his addictions and reorienting his trust back to God.
Addictions enslave us … we are not in control of them. They own us, Jack! The paradox of this is that our awareness of our addictions reminds us that God is God and we are not. When we are brought up short by Christ with the thing we lack, the object of our addiction, we fight back … or like the man, we run. Fighting back and running are what we’d rather do because we don’t want to give up our attachments – and there is no gospel, no good news in that.
The good news is that we have another option. We can admit we have misplaced our trust and we can let our addictions bring us to our knees … and that’s exactly where we will be met by the unmerited, unearned love of God we call grace. Unless we confront the question, “Who owns you Jack?” and admit that we let lots of things lay claim to us and we are not in control of our addicted selves, we will not find grace. This question needs to be revisited over and over through the course of our lives because if we avoid it, we will live our lives as fearful, addicted, spiritually dead people. Christ calls us to be spiritually alive and he claimed each and every one of us in baptism where we were marked as his own … forever. In the midst of our messy lives, in the midst of our addictions, in the midst of our dying … we are Christ’s own, bought with a price, and nothing can change that – absolutely nothing.
So who or what owns you … Jack? As we begin our focus on stewardship this month, I want you to think about what things or people or ideas have laid claim to you. To whom or what have you given your trust … and how does it now own you? To what or to who are you addicted? What are your barriers to freely giving yourself to God in Christ? Where are you being called to step into trusting God more? Remember, Christ owns you! Giving up things we can’t imagine living without, those addictions which try to claim us, is possible – for with God, all things are possible.