I begin by saying that I am from Minnesota. Minnesotans are known for a number of things and one of them is being ‘nice.’ ‘Minnesota Nice’ isn’t isolated for those in the frozen north. There are lots of nice people around the world.
What makes people nice? Well, they don’t cheat on their spouse. They don’t steal or connive to take what belongs to somebody else. Nice people don’t lie about others and give respect to their parents. ‘Minnesota Nice’ fits a lot people.
A man comes to Jesus and he must have been a nice man because he had done all of these things. They come from the 10 Commandments and he had spent his whole life keeping them. Yet, he was searching for more. He wanted to inherit something called ‘eternal life.’ Eternal life is far more than one day following another, following another, following another. Eternal life is more about the character and quality of life that is lived under the reign of God. A life that is, shall we say, heavenly inspired.
The man wanted to learn how to inherit eternal life. Jesus began listing the 10 Commandments but only those pertaining to human relationships. The man was good at keeping these. Jesus didn’t mention the Commandments related to God which he must have lacked in keeping. Jesus told the nice man what he was lacking and that was to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor and follow Jesus’ path. The man left with a sad face because he was rich.
The past few weeks the readings have been about maintaining position and the taking of power. Jesus kept holding up a powerless child as the ideal instead for life in the kingdom of God. After this reading, the disciples are quarreling with John and James for trying to secure the top two positions in Jesus’ future kingdom. This is why the rich man was sad.
We know that wealth gives us power and position in community. Wealth allows us to wall ourselves away from others and never have to relate to them as equals. Being nice is a lot easier than giving up power to see other people as equals which eternal life is like. As Jesus said, “…many who are first will be last, and the last first.”