The English word “Enlightenment” has a two-way meaning. At a glance, it means “receiving light,” as in “someone is enlightened.” However, it also means “shedding light,” as in “enlightening others.” The two-directional meaning makes this word even more enlightening.
Many people join a religion to pursue enlightenment to improve the quality of living, but I have discovered that we can receive light only to a certain limit. It’s like eating; you can only eat as much as your stomach can hold. Then, you must burn it out or pass it out before you eat more.
In the same way, our spiritual capacity to receive light is limited. What’s the solution if you want to be more enlightened than you are now? Shed your light. You get more enlightened by shedding light rather than just keep receiving it. It’s like your body muscles; the more you use it, the more you gain.
Jesus said we are the light of the world and taught us not to hide our light but put it high on the light stand to enlighten the surrounding. He said,
“You are the light of the world. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” (Mat 5:14a, 15).
If you put it in the context of the entire Bible, the purpose is not about showing off your light, but to gain more by shedding. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 6:38a). If you keep receiving light without shedding, you will become spiritually obese and sick. The wise King Solomon also said,
“Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.” (Pr 11:24).
Even though he is talking about material giving, it applies to spiritual enlightenment. The point is, the more light you shed, the more enlightened you become.
So, today, let’s learn how to maximize our enlightenment based on what Jesus taught us in this week’s scripture lesson.
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper. You are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
The scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Mark 10:17-31. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “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.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Mk 10:17–31).
[This is the Word of the Lord! Thanks be to God.]
This story is known as the story of the Rich Young Ruler, recorded in all Synoptic Gospels, showing the story’s significance for the readers. Even though Mark’s version did not mention that he was a ruler, Luke revealed that he was. So, based on all three gospels, he was known as the Rich Young Ruler.
This young man had achieved a high level of success in his profession, possession, education, and edification. By edification, I mean moral and spiritual education. It seems that he had reached a plateau of his spiritual enlightenment. He wanted to achieve more and believed Jesus was the right person to enlighten him to the next level.
As he (Jesus) was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 17).
We can see this Rich Young Ruler is very humble despite his achievements and position. He knelt before him and called him “Good Teacher,” and asked him a straightforward question. Eternal life is not just the life after death but the highest quality of life above the current earthly life.
Many people think eternity is about the future, but it is from eternal past to eternal future. So, eternal life includes the present moment, except at a higher level of consciousness. Jesus calls it the “born again” life. Our physical life will wear away, but our eternal spiritual life will continue forever.
It’s a life of enlightenment—a life of joy even during persecution or suffering. This Rich Young Ruler wanted that kind of life. He had everything else—power, possession, and prestige. It seemed those things did not make him happy. He wanted the ultimate quality of life above and beyond his achievements.
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (v. 18).
Some atheists argue Jesus refused to be called “Good Teacher” because he was not God. If you read it carefully, Jesus did not refuse to be called “good.” It was a rhetorical question. He was saying, “Young man, be real! Are you serious about calling me ‘God’? Are you ready to take my word as God’s word?”
Few people those days recognized Jesus’ divinity. Fewer treated his word as divine instruction. Even the disciples who confessed that he was the Messiah did not follow his teaching until after the resurrection. So, Jesus wanted to make sure he knew what he was talking about and whom he was talking to.
You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”
Jesus tested his spiritual foundation to find out if he just casually called him “Good Teacher.” If he knew the scriptures, he knew that calling him “Good Teacher” was equivalent to call him “God.” Jesus was impressed by his answer. It meant he did not casually call Jesus “Good Teacher.” He knew what he was talking about.
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “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.” (v. 21).
Jesus loved him for his intelligence. Of course, Jesus loved everybody, but this young man had achieved greatness by his work ethic and moral integrity. It showed that he did not attain his status through some luck and shortcuts. He really worked hard to get there professionally and spiritually.
One of the problems with hardworking people is that they think they can achieve anything by their work. When I took my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at a counseling center at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), I learned that most doctors refused to receive counseling because, as caregivers, they are uncomfortable receiving care for themselves.
They just want to give and keep giving. Bless their hearts, but only the smartest few doctors are comfortable being at the receiving end. It’s the same with hardworking people who have achieved much. They think all they need is to work harder to get to the next level. Look at his question,
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He thought he must “do” something to inherit eternal life as if it is a reward for his deeds. There are certain things in life you cannot work for, but you can only receive them like a child. Just a couple of verses before this passage, Jesus taught the disciples to receive the kingdom of God as a child.
Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (v. 15).
Now, this Rich Young Ruler has become another object for the disciples to learn the lesson. Jesus was saying he did not need to do anything, but he must undo everything. He must give away all his achievements to the poor and follow him like a child. He must learn to receive.
When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (v. 22).
Notice it says he was “shocked.” He did not expect this answer from “God.” He had called Jesus “Good Teacher” in vain because he did not listen to him but went away grieving. He suffered from workaholism. He had worked so hard to accumulate so much, and he wanted more by doing more, but not less to nothing. He did not want to be on the receiving end.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. (v. 23-24a).
That shows that the disciples did not get it previously despite Jesus’ repeated teaching. Like most people, they thought wealth was a sign of God’s blessing for their hard work and good deeds. Therefore, wealthy people must be on God’s priority list to enter the kingdom. Then Jesus used a metaphor,
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (v. 24b-25).
I have mentioned many times before that Jesus was a funny teacher. This comparison came out of his remarkable sense of humor. It makes you remember the importance of this teaching forever. He wanted his disciples to completely wipe off the traditional notion that the rich were on God’s priority list.
They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” (v. 26-27).
So, the disciples still held on to the traditional notion that the rich would be the first to enter heaven. If it is not them, then who can be saved, as if the poor had no chance if the rich cannot get there. Jesus said human beings could never earn heaven—the ultimate enlightenment, but God made it possible through Jesus’ salvific death on the cross. God made it possible.
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” (v. 28).
Peter wanted to make sure they were on God’s priority list. Even though they left everything to follow Jesus, they did not realize the full cost of discipleship until after the resurrection. Then Jesus told him to feed his sheep and that he would die a horrible death—crucified upside down.
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left (everything) for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—and in the age to come eternal life. (v. 29-30c).
Putting it in the context of Jesus’ entire teaching, to follow him means to serve others as he had served us. For example, if you study for a Ph.D., you are required certain hours of teaching because teaching is another level of learning. Enlightening others take you to a higher level of enlightenment.
You learn more by teaching Sunday School, leading youth groups, or facilitating Bible Study. You gain more by giving. Jesus said following him in serving others gives you a hundredfold in return for your investment. When it comes to enlightenment, you don’t get more light by striving but shedding. Jesus ended this segment of teaching, reminding us to think upside down.
But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (v. 31).
To be the last means to be the servant of all. It’s about the humble status. There is a Rotary motto that says, “One Profits Most Who Serves Best.” That came from Jesus’ teaching. Most of us think to shine our light is to get in front of people, but according to Jesus, enlightenment is a service to the world.
It’s a paradox. It’s like a lighthouse that stands tall, but it is humble service to show the way. That’s why you could get persecuted for your service because you are highly visible. See, being the last doesn’t mean you hide behind people, but you must be willing to be visible with your service of light.
Still, let us set our light free, shining boldly and humbly as our service to the world and as our path to a higher level of enlightenment.
Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.