Defining the Terms


There’s a story of a rich young man who comes to Jesus to ask him what he must do to inherit eternal life.  I’ll spare you what I think the rich young man is and isn’t talking about when he says eternal life except to say, he isn’t asking Jesus how he can get into heaven when he dies.  Jesus entertains this line of questioning by telling him 5 of the last 6 commandments he should keep from the list of the 10 Commandments from the book of the Law.  The young man is pretty confident that he has kept all of those 5 commandments his entire life.  So, Jesus simply tells the young man to do the only thing the young man is unwilling to do: namely, to go sell everything he has and give it to the poor, and then come follow Jesus.

The young man walked away from Jesus.  He approached Jesus full of confidence that he’s probably just a stutter step away from the life of the ages, the abundant life, the life he’s always wanted.  He is, after all, a Law abiding Jew.  Knowing that the young man was approaching on his own terms, Jesus redefined the terms.  Jesus says essentially, “There’s this identity problem that you seem to have as a rich young man.  You need a new identity, one that is not about wealth but about treasure in heaven.  If you truly seek the abundant life, you need to come on different terms.  Put off the old self, and put on the new self.”

I was watching both of my kids tonight by myself for the second night in a row.  Its much less of a big deal than I make it out to be in my head.  My kids are relatively easy, except for dinner time for Obi.  Ever since he turned two or so, he has basically tacitly refused to eat with the rest of the family at dinnertime.  Most days, he still ends up eating what we made for dinner.  He tries to manipulate and ask for a snack, but we just offer him his re-heated dinner and he always eats it.  But he never eats with us unless he is close to starving at dinner.

Tonight was no different.  Since I was flying solo, I naturally made a frozen pizza.  Obi didn’t even wake up from his nap until 5:10pm, after I had already “baked” the pizza and set it out to cool.  He likes pizza, but he just stayed in his room when I told him that I made pizza for him.  Since Guinevere was already done eating when he awoke, I just told him he could play with her and not worry about eating pizza right now (keeping the peace).

But, then I got the bright idea to offer to take him to go get ice cream if he ate his pizza before 6pm (it was 5:40).  Obi thought this was a great idea, except for the whole ‘having to eat his pizza’ part.  So, he complained and whined and I responded by telling him it doesn’t matter to me if he gets ice cream or eats his pizza, so he can keep playing (which made me feel awesome and meant nothing to him).  Then Obi said, “Can we go downstairs, and I eat pizza and watch the Lorax?”

The idea was fine, but it wasn’t my idea, and since I’m a parent, I had to modify his request so that I still felt in control.  So, I told Obi that we could go downstairs as soon as he ate his pizza (now 5:45pm), or at 6pm we could go downstairs and he would have to eat his pizza downstairs while watching the movie.  I think this kid is smarter than he looks, because he realized that he could just wait 15 minutes and get his way, albeit by way of my modification.  He asked me to set his alarm for 6:00 and, through some complaining and whining, waited for the beep.

He would eat the pizza, but only on his terms.

The thing is, with Jesus, its rarely about our terms.  Its a process, following him, but every time we try to define the terms he redefines them.  Because we don’t know what we need.  Tonight I was frustrated with my son for constantly trying to do things on his terms.  I love him, and I know what’s best for him is to obey us, because we have his best interests in mind.  He doesn’t understand why its important to submit his will to our good-will, so he barters and seeks the easy way to get exactly what he wants.  Just like me.  Just like all of us.

I can actually imagine what it must be like to be God looking at me trying to get him to work around my agendas, hopes, dreams, aspirations, time, money, etc.  He’s got to be frustrated.  But I know he loves me, and is working on me to help conform me to his good-will for me.


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