Meb Keflezighi is one of my heroes. He won the Boston marathon earlier this year at the age of 38. Amazing. Back in 2004 he was the Olympic silver medalist in the marathon. He was side-lined for the 2008 Olympics; but in 2009, he won NY, and in 2012, he placed 4th at the London Olympic marathon. That is an incredibly long career for a runner. Those are the successes; and he has been through some terrible valleys. One of the highlights of my year was seeing and hearing him at the Olathe marathon pasta dinner. He is one of two main reasons that I want to run Boston in 2016. He brought the smiles back to Boston; and in some small way, I want to do my part as well.
As an older runner contemplating my own shot at Boston, I really admire Meb. So, leading up to the pasta dinner, I thought about asking him some questions. I know of his deep faith from reading his book, and I know his mantra is “run to win,” based on 1 Corinthians 9:24. I wondered if there was a Psalm he found strength from during his training. I wondered how he has remained so competitive for so long. I thought about asking him if he had found the fountain of eternal youth. And that gave me a chuckle. And that question reminded me of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
And I could see myself running up to Meb and asking, “What must I do to be like you?” And what if his answer was “Go. Sell everything. Devote yourself to running”? Maybe that would work…
This story is one of Jesus’ hardest teachings for me, and I was glad to see it in this humorous light. I have a hard time getting past the “sell everything” part. I can identify with the rich young ruler. I am one of the “good” guys. I have followed the Ten Commandments from my youth. Well, I’ve tried to and been successful most of the time, especially with the 6 easy ones Jesus throws out there. I’ve got those nailed. Don’t commit murder? OK! Don’t commit adultery? Check! But once you’ve done that, Jesus has another challenge for you. Sell everything. Forget it. It’s too hard. Sign me up for grace.
I have spent a lot of time rationalizing away this exchange. I have thought selling everything isn’t going to make me a perfect person. You can’t earn or buy your way into heaven. But I keep on thinking that Jesus wanted to be taken literally and that he was serious. So I circle back. Selling everything just may be the secret to really following Jesus.
I was pondering this question on a run through Mission Hills. “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Go. Sell everything and give to the poor. Not give the net profits to the poor but simply give to the poor. And as I was running past all those beautiful lawns, marvelous fountains, and sprawling mansions, I thought, “Jesus didn’t say give to the rich!” But that’s what I do! I give my time, effort, attention, and longings to the rich and powerful. I want to be like them. My dream is to be wealthy and live a life of ease; consequences be damned.
Giving to the rich is how I make a living: I spend the best part of my time, energy, and brain power at work. And giving to the rich is where I buy stuff. It’s eating out (instead of working in a soup kitchen) and vacationing (instead of working on a habitat house) and going to movies (instead of reading the Bible). And I buy from the rich and powerful, too. I’m always looking for a bargain. How can I spend the least and get the good enough? And who gets the squeeze? The check-out, clerks, and stockers. People who are working for minimum wage and lacking health insurance. A lot of the time I feel like I have blood on my hands.
I thought I should give more to the poor. And in response to that revelation, I have started buying more things at fair trade. Target and its ilk still get most of my money, but I’m spending some money on beautiful things that individuals make. On top of my regular tithe, I am donating to more causes – even if it’s just a little. And a funny thing happened. A little bit of the miser in me let loose, and the fool grabbed hold. I became slightly detached (and unhinged) from my money.
In the song “Money Made You Mean,” the Indigo Girls say, “How much do we really need? The question, if you have to ask, just means what it means. The question that says everything.” And they are talking not only about how money makes us vicious, nasty, and self-centered, but also common, average, and fungible. It reminds me of the saying, “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.” How much for that Picasso? How much do kids cost? What does a marathon cost? What will retirement cost? Marc Davis said, “All it takes is all you got.” And he’s right. When you are ready to do something for the pure love of it, there’s no accounting. You are willing to sell everything.
But money to the rich young ruler is more dear than Abraham’s first born son. Jesus has found the thing he is not willing to sacrifice. And I ask, as in the LORD’s prayer, please, do not put me to the test.
Sell everything. I’ve been reading the 4-Hour Work Week, and I have a love-hate relationship with it. The shady techniques that are espoused, the goal of having more money, and the pursuit of leisurely travel on arbitraged dollars I detest; but I have had some fascinating thoughts based on the questions and perspectives. One of the chapters is Elimination. And selling everything would be the ultimate “elimination.” You would be stripped bare. You could start over. There would be room in your life for new stuff, thoughts, and rituals. I like that idea, even though I’m afraid to have a red tag sale. Still, I have taken some half-measures: throwing out the old, donating the gently-used, and rearranging the cherished. It makes me realize I can’t hold onto everything. It feels good to choose to let go of some things and hold on to others.
These are not the first or final insights from this Bible story. It goes much deeper than “spending out” for me. But being more generous is one of my growing edges. Jesus told the rich young ruler that money is not important. Eternal life has no price tag. It’s a gift. And somewhere, deep in his heart, the ruler (and the runner) knew that “selling everything” was the right thing to do. In other words, be extravagant. Spare no expense. And Jesus promises he’ll make everything come out in the end.
Of course, after you sell everything, there’s the “Come. Follow me,” part. I’m reminded of the bumper sticker “If you keep on following me, you will get where I am going.” I’m all in on that one.