Gaining the world and forgetting your soul

There’s a story of a rich man (Mark 10:17-22) who once approached Jesus, inquiring about eternal life. The man was of great financial means. His human affairs were well in order and he had no concerns, but he was uncertain about his afterlife. One day he asked Jesus what he must do to secure his afterlife. Jesus answered the man, first by giving him the religious answer, which had to do with obedience to the Ten Commandments. In addition to being wealthy, the man had lived a devout religious life, and explained his to Jesus. In response, Jesus told the man that the only thing he lacked was to sell his possessions and give them to the poor.

In my view, the point of this interaction between Jesus and the man was not fundamentally about the man’s possessions per se. Jesus was not delivering a message about the evils of materialism and greed, or issuing a social justice challenge about ending poverty. That’s not to say that Jesus doesn’t address these matters in other places. He does. But I don’t believe this was the point of his dialogue with the rich man. This not a contentious exchange, like those for example we see between Jesus and the leaders of the religious establishment. In the account of the interaction in Mark 10 we are told that Jesus felt a great love in his heart for the man.

If the point is not about greed and poverty, then what is it? I think you have to dig a little deeper to find it.

I see the meaning of the story in the response of the rich man to the instruction of Jesus to sell his possessions and give to the poor. The rich man walks away. He can’t do it. He won’t do it. It’s asking too much. Why? Wouldn’t giving up your worldly possessions (which won’t last anyway) in order to secure your eternal life be worth it? Does forfeiting life everlasting in order to hold onto your temporary possessions make any sense?

Of course to the rich man, it’s much more than that. The man’s possessions were his security and his identity. His entire life was based on what he had. It’s not uncommon for someone to attach their security and identity to “worldly riches.” People externalize their sense of self and value from their financial status, possessions, and upholding the cultural narratives about what it means to be “successful.” People depend on their wealth and possessions for peace, comfort, worth, well-being, status, privilege and power. But lest I sound judgmental, for all we know the man had many mouths to feed, and used his resources to help and aid others in need. He might have been okay with parting with some of his possessions but Jesus told him to sell ALL of them. How crazy is that! Would you do it?

We all have misplaced dependencies - external things we rely on to meet our innermost needs and desires. Some have a misplaced dependency upon achievement, fame, fortune or “success” for value and worth. For others it’s a misplaced dependency upon the approval of others. People have a misplaced dependency upon money for peace and security. Some have a misplaced dependency upon their body and physical appearance for worth and acceptance. Some people find their security and sense of self in their religious identity or belief system. There is nothing necessarily wrong with any of these outcomes – being successful, well-liked, fit or religious – but if we become dependent upon these for our sense of innermost well-being, we are setting ourselves up for suffering. Many people perpetuate a particular persona in hopes of finding worth, value, security and well-being – the intelligent one, the pretty one, the thin one, the artistic one, the radical one, the spiritual one, the superior one, the religious one, the anti-religious one, the victimized one.

You are understanding correctly the scenario with Jesus and the rich man by asking yourself this question: What attachment or dependency am I holding onto in my life because it provides a false sense of security, identity and well-being? This question requires a fairly stout level of self-awareness.

Even if we could achieve and maintain all these attachments and dependencies (which is impossible due to change and circumstances out of our control), they would not satisfy or fill our deepest longing. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with feeling good about oneself as a result of accomplishment or achievement. And of course it is true that we derive a sense of love, belonging and acceptance through our relationships with others, and rightly so. But none of this will ultimately be enough to soothe or satisfy our deepest longings.

Somewhere out there along the way in our drive to succeed, our game of image management and pleasing others, our dutiful religious obedience, our constant striving for the “right beliefs,” our obsession with losing weight and being thin, perpetuating our false image of perfection, our clinging and attachments for security and worth… somewhere out there along the way in all of that, we are going to lose something invaluable… the fundamental truth of who we are.

There is nothing you are missing. There is no need to frantically become more, be more, do more, or get more. You are whole and complete, and were gifted every talent and insight you needed to thrive in this world in the moment you were born. Your only job is to accept this truth and then allow it to unfold. Some gifts don’t become apparent until later in life. Some insights only become clear to you once you have life experiences that unlock such wisdom from within you. Trust in this and relax. By embracing this truth we will find the true peace, wholeness and well-being we long for.

Jesus said in Matthew 16:25-26, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

What did Jesus mean by “for me” – “whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Jesus was not interested in building a personality cult. Jesus was referring to the truth he taught, lived, demonstrated, bore witness to and died for. What truth is that? That God and humankind are not separated but one. We are born into this world one with God. In other words, we are born into a fundamental wholeness and harmony of which we each are a part. That wholeness and harmony is the fundamental essence of who we are. We think that we are separate from love, peace, freedom, wholeness, and well-being. We go out into the world every day and strive for these because we think we are separated from them. We think we are separate from each other and fight against each other. This notion of separation is a lie.

This was part of the profound impact Jesus made on the spiritual journey of humankind – not that he fixed a separation issue that was real, but that he unmasked the illusion of separation so it would no longer hold sway in our lives and we could be free. Jesus did not say that he would make you free. His specific words were that the truth will set you free. On another occasions Jesus said, “I am the Truth.” What is that truth? It is the truth of no separation. It is the truth of one harmonious whole of which we each are a part. It is that truth that God and humankind are one.

Think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16 like this, “Whoever wants to seek true well-being through their external attachments and dependencies will only find themselves further away from it. But whoever lets these go and turns toward the source of life within them will find it.”

When Jesus said the “Kingdom of God” is within us, he was wanting us to see that the source of the love, peace, security, identity, worth, wholeness, value, acceptance, belonging, freedom, joy, fulfillment that we all long for, is inside us ans IS us. We don’t have to scratch and claw for it externally every day, we only have to turn toward it within ourselves.

It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than a person trying to achieve true wholeness and well-being through their external dependencies and attachments.

The real journey of life is within. When Jesus said the truth will set us free, he was referring to the truth of who we truly are, one with God – one with life, one with wholeness, one with well-being, one with all. The way things truly are at the most fundamental level is harmonious, undisturbed and complete, and we are a part of that whole… an expression of that whole. We have all heard the axiom, “Know thyself.” Jesus said go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.

Jesus often spoke of spiritual reality as a hidden treasure.

You have spent your life seeking a treasure, and you are seeking it now. You dream of true love. You purchase your lottery ticket. You chase the carrot of happiness. You read the next great spiritual book. You go on a new diet. Meanwhile, you are unaware of the treasure.

The treasure is you! The treasure is your true self that has always been and always will be.

©  2009 Jim Palmer Author. All Rights Reserved
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