by Maria Evans
Almighty God, whose loving hand has given us all that we
possess: Grant us grace that we may honor you with our
substance, and, remembering the account which we must one
day give, may be faithful stewards of your bounty, through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–Prayer for the Right Use of God’s Gifts, p. 827, Book of Common Prayer
Ah, yes…it’s “Stewardship Season” again, isn’t it? That time that the late Rev. Terry Parsons called the “October Beg-a-thon.” I’ve always wondered if the folks who put the Revised Common Lectionary together knew that full well when they started stringing the various texts for October and early November.
I say that because this year, the Gospel for proper 23B–Mark 10:17-31–you might know it as the story of Jesus and the Rich Young Man–just won’t seem to leave my head even though that Sunday has come and gone. Of all things, it took a skunk to make me see why this story can be so troubling.
I tend to be a bit of a night owl, and my two dogs, Boomer and Little Eddie, have more or less adjusted their bowel and bladder habits to that fact. Around midnight on the night before my parish’s annual Blessing of the Animals, I was happily playing with the computer, the dogs outside doing their business, when suddenly I (unfortunately) smelled a familiar smell coming through my registers–the perfume of Mephitis mephitis, aka the North American Striped Skunk. (For what it’s worth, the Latin name of the striped skunk literally means “bad odor, bad odor.” Saying it twice says a lot between the lines, doesn’t it?)
Sure enough, when I rushed outside, I discovered that my dogs had tangled with a skunk, and lost. They both reeked. The yard reeked. I was starting to wonder if just standing out there was going to add me to the list of things that reeked. Within nanoseconds, the thought that flew into my brain was not “I hope the dogs are okay,” it was “You are NOT getting on my new sectional sofa.”
As I’ve started to repatriate the house after the great house remodel, I purchased one nice piece of furniture for my living room–a sectional sofa with a chaise lounge and two full sized sofa sections. As one of my friends said in that I’m-joking-but-really-I’m-serious way, “It’s the last piece of living room furniture you will ever need in your adult life because it is a good brand and you can always have it re-covered.” Although I am notoriously cheap, I bought a good sectional in a classic style and color because I knew it would last.
That said, I’ve never been picky about dogs and furniture. Mi casa es su casa. My dogs have always enjoyed any stick of furniture in my house (with the exception of the kitchen table) throughout my life. Any couch or bed that my dogs would not want to sleep on is probably not a very good piece of furniture. Yet, I immediately barred my skunky dogs from not only the new sectional, but from the house entirely. They slept outside in their doghouses even after being as de-skunked as I could get them. The dogs who normally sleep with me (and they have slept with me in a de-skunked but with a slight residual odorous state in the past) were suddenly canes non grata. I could not risk them getting on the sectional while I was asleep. I didn’t care that it started to rain outside. I didn’t care that it was a little chilly. I didn’t care that they were a bit distressed themselves about being skunked. In a heartbeat, I had summarily banned my two best companions.
The speed at which I banned them was a stark reminder about how possessions change our attitudes about generosity, charity, and love. That little nagging voice in my head whispered, “Maria, if this is how fast you’ll choose your possessions over the love of your canine companions, then how many times have you just as quickly chosen your possessions over God?”
As I lay in bed (sans dogs) the Gospel story in Mark seemed to have my name on it. The Rich Young Man was me. There were things I realized I would not do even if the Kingdom of Heaven were at stake. But it wasn’t just me. Everyone has his or her limit. Jesus didn’t tell the Rich Young Man that to get him to play a giant game of Truth or Dare. He told him what he did simply to illustrate that none of us can earn eternity with God on our own merits–that it’s all about grace–and that these sorts of challenges are there to get us to stretch our limits a little more in that relationship as a show of gratitude for that grace.
God’s message is simple, consistent and persistent–choose me. But God doesn’t bully us into that choice, God patiently sits on the sidelines like the kid who never gets picked first when choosing up teams. It’s only with time and insight that we discover we really didn’t pick anything, God owned the whole playground.
Choose me over your delusions of security.
Choose me over what feels safe.
Choose me over your best-laid plans.
Choose me over your most precious possession.
Choose me over your reputation.
Choose me. I can’t promise you a single good thing from it, but I can promise you a new way of seeing this life and a bigger picture.
What is hanging out in the forefront of your mind this stewardship season that is pushing at you to choose God?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid