"I believe that in the Eucharist we are enacting God's vision for the Kingdom as revealed to us in the incarnation. The church is meant to be a Eucharistic community, embodying Eucharistic ethics."
I’m pretty confident Jesus wouldn’t last long in my job.
Besides supplying alcohol at parties and breaking church property, he also kind of sucked at the getting kids 'saved' part.
Don’t believe me? Just check out his exchange with "the rich, young ruler” in Mat 19, Mark 10, or Luke 18. Maybe you’ve heard it.
A young man comes running up to Jesus with a question, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" [Translation, how can I make sure I’m on God’s guest list when I die?]
His question is typical of a young man who has grown up with privilege and who is familiar with the workings of religion. He lives a life of financial security, probably wanting for very little, and now he wants to secure his spot in the afterlife as well. Now, we don’t know why this young man seeks out Jesus at this time. We have no back story, nothing to indicate what occurred in his life that got him thinking about what happens after he dies. All we know is that this is what’s on his mind and he’s come to the one place he believes he can find an answer to his spiritual dilemma.
This is it Jesus.
A young person is looking to have religious dialogue. It’s the moment every youth pastor dreams about. You know what to do.
- Break out your Romans Road and lead the guy through the steps towards salvation.
- Have him invite you into his heart.
- Ask him if he’s made you his personal Lord and saviour.
Jesus doesn’t do any of that. Instead, he dances around the question by sort of throwing it back at him with a list of commandments. Basically,
“Just do what the bible says.”
Real helpful Jesus.
Then, just when the guy is starting to feel as though he's doing pretty well on the whole commandment thing, Jesus lobs a bomb into the conversation.
“There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
You had to go and bring the whole social justice bit into this didn't you?
In the end, Jesus doesn’t even answer his initial question at all. Instead, what he does is expose the flaw in his worldview. He cuts right through this guy's checklist mentality by inviting him into the very present reality of the Kingdom of God. Where this guy wanted to secure an eternal future, Jesus ignored that and invited him into the present. Where this guy is interested in gaining self assurance, Jesus challenges him to give away his privilege. Where this guy was looking for a simple answer, Jesus just lets him walk away confused.
This is how I know Jesus probably wouldn't make it as a youth worker. I mean, this kid clearly grew up in the church - his parents are probably on a committee or something - and here he is looking for eternal assurance and Jesus lets him walk away without even giving him a straight answer. I can just hear the phone calls...
Yet I'm wondering if there's something we can learn from this as we try to disciple students today.
This young man has a lot in common with young people that grow up in a rural, suburban context. Often, those that come from a similarly privileged and/or religious upbringing are looking for the same thing - a spiritual checklist so that they can be sure that they're in. For many of them, religion can be boiled down to a list of dos and don'ts that secure a place for them in heaven. They're wanting us to assure them that they're on the right track, that they've been checking off the right things, that their eternal future is secure.
I think there's a reason that Jesus then turned to his friends and said that it was very difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God; and I think it directly involves what he said to this young man that he found so frustrating. When Jesus talked about entering the Kingdom it turns out that he wasn't talking about gaining access to something, it had far more to do with participation in. And this is where it gets so difficult for so many of us.
Participation confronts our privilege because it requires giving it up for the sake of others.
Participation confronts our religion because it says that later is not as important as right now.
Participation confronts our checklist mentality because it asks something of us that doesn't end.
Participation confronts our desire for simple answers because it's not really an answer at all - it's an invitation into life.
I believe that we may need to evaluate what's at stake here.
If our young people are struggling to find a faith that matters it could be because they have yet to understand that Jesus is inviting them to participate in the work of the Kingdom, not simply ensuring them that they're in it. When we as youth workers spend all our time mastering our soteriological formula, we may get more hands in the air; but I wonder if we're truly challenging students with the life change that Jesus is all about. If we really want to see students embrace a faith that lasts beyond each youth night, we may need to be willing to step out past what's comfortable and easy for us.
What might our youth ministries look like if we started offering less answers and more opportunities for young people to participate in the Kingdom of God together? How might our students respond if we stopped giving them what they wanted and began to explore what Jesus is calling them into?