Imagine you are a disciple standing next to Jesus. A slick young guy walks up. He throws himself down, kneeling before Jesus, and almost demands: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Standing by as a disciple, you notice this stunningly devout man is rich.
But Jesus is not fazed. He questions the young man’s words and then tells him to simply obey the Ten Commandments. You are not surprised when this obviously educated young man says he has kept these commands since childhood. You think, What a sharp, obedient guy this is! Maybe he’ll join us!
But Jesus pauses. He looks at him and loves him. You can see he really means it. Then Jesus says, “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.”
You think, Uh oh! Why did Jesus say this? It will drive the young man away. Sell everything? We’ve given up everything. But Jesus also said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So this guy’s heart needs to be changed? How can that be? He’s one of the sharpest guys we’ve met.
But Jesus also says: “Then come, follow me.”
So Jesus does want him as a follower.
The man’s face falls and he walks away sad.
He looks crushed. Maybe I should run after him.
The first time I meditated on this scene (Mark 10:17-22), I was riveted by how Jesus looked at this young man and loved him. In that atmosphere of love, Jesus challenged him to give up the thing that made the young man who he was: riches.
Since then, I have imagined Jesus’ loving face looking at me and challenging me to give up things I cling to. I don’t always give them up, but I’m mesmerized by how God (through Jesus) challenges us in the midst of quiet, teeming love, as if to say, “Jan, you can do this.”
This reading “between the lines” of scripture occurs as we step into biblical scenes. This kind of meditation (which I call the “movie method”) was used by Ignatius of Loyola. He suggested people place themselves in the text as a careful observer – as a “fly on the wall.” If prompted by God, we become one of the characters, seeing the story unfold from that character’s viewpoint. We try to feel what that person may have felt or think what they thought, relying on even the smallest words of scripture to give us clues. You may protest that you can’t do this because you don’t have an imagination. But if you can worry, you have an excellent, trained imagination. The key is to give it to God, which meditation helps you do.
Perhaps you want to hear God better? If so, you may enjoy using Taste and See: Experiencing the Stories of Advent and Christmas in a group or individually. This Advent guide helps you enter into the Advent stories and see the events from different people’s points of view. (Cultural and contextual cues are provided to help you.) Prepare yourself to experience the Bible events as you never have before.
Jan Johnson is a writer, speaker, and spiritual director who holds degrees in Christian education and spirituality. She is the author of 17 books, including Taste and See, Enjoying the Presence of God, When the Soul Listens, Savoring God’s Word, and many magazine articles. Johnson is also a frequent retreat leader and conference speaker. For more information, see www.janjohnson.org.