Christ’s relationship with us, his followers, is a love story. His is self-sacrificing love of the most profound sort. He puts himself on the line again and again, hoping to hear a “yes” from us when he poses the life-giving choices. Such is the case when the rich young man kneels before him.
Have you ever had the experience of praying so consistently, in such a disciplined way, that you come face to face with a crucial issue demanding of you a “yes”? The rich young man, through keeping the commandments from his youth, was in that kind of a place. And it happened to me as well, back when I was first writing icons. The prayer discipline had taken hold of me.
It was a time when I was at odds with my local parish. A small group of friends and I were meeting in my living room on a fairly regular basis to share communion led by one of our number who was a priest. It was a rural, Wyoming town; there were no other choices.
We were in the right. A huge abuse of power was going on at the parish church. Our attempt to address it had resulted in us being shunned. I had no qualms about seeking an alternative way to worship, none whatsoever. But then somehow, through my prayer practice, I found myself kneeling at Jesus’ feet.
“Pray for your enemy,” he told me. That was an astounding request, one I hated. How could I honestly do it? It would put me at odds not only with the church but with my small group of friends who were fellow exiles. And yet, the notion was so powerful I could not deny it was God-sent. And so I did it.
It’s not an easy thing to ask God for health and blessings and well-being for someone who is actively doing you harm, and to do that on a daily basis for months. But it does put things in perspective. In the larger scheme of things we must fight for justice at the same time as we also remember to love. It was exactly what I needed to do in that moment to inherit eternal life.
The task of the rich young man was to give up his possessions. He did not find it possible to say “yes” to that request, as he had quite a few of them, many of which he loved a great deal. We are all in that boat. Why else would people be gathering at our borders in desperate yearning for something – anything – just the crumbs that fall from our table? And Christ does put us in mind of that whenever we kneel at his feet. What the world could do with our accumulated wealth!
“Impossible to give it up,” we say. “There are the kids to think about. Our own security. Does it do anyone any good if we ourselves become homeless and destitute?”
And Jesus replies, “Yes, it’s impossible for human beings. But not for God. Nothing is impossible for God.” That does put things into perspective.
Follow your prayer discipline along the paths it leads you until you find yourself kneeling at Jesus’ feet. What is the one request he makes of you in that moment? What is your reply?
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer living in Fort Collins, Colorado. For more about her and a bit of her work, go here.