Friday, August 27, 2010

One Thing You Lack

The young man didn’t have everything, but he could obtain much of it on credit.

He was a good guy.  He wasn’t snobbish with his relative wealth, and it was just that:  relative, in both senses of the term.  He had inherited a healthy chunk of wealth from his father, but he was not what anyone would consider “very wealthy”.  He was, as he sometimes put it, “comfortable.”  So he wore his wealth like a comfy coat, modestly and naturally.

He was devout, closing his eyes and silently moving his lips as the priest led services.  He gave a healthy tithe, often going well beyond the minimal 10 percent.  He was pretty sure these factors had something to do with his continued  “blessing”.

He was relatively happy, as well.  Relatively.  As yet unmarried, though there was a possibility or two.  He enjoyed his community, and he loved a good party, though he was never found with a headache or a churning stomach in the morning.  Usually the next morning he held on to a lingering smile from a good time well had.

Most nights he went to sleep content with how things were, and he slept deeply.

That is, most nights.  Lately, he felt he’d been ever-so-slightly troubled by a distant, unformed thought.  He was still quick to smile and welcome a friend, but there was often found a thoughtful furrow upon his brow.

That distant thought soon became the faintest whisper, and it came to him as he lay in bed, a candle still smoldering beside him.  He would close his eyes and strain to hear it, but it was still out of reach, barely a decibel below what his ears could hear.

But the feeling, the whisper, persisted.  It was there now when he woke.  It was there at his parties.  It was even there at church.  He found himself staring into the sky, as if he might be able to hear the words in the whisper if he could just concentrate hard enough.

Today was a Thursday.  It was late in the afternoon, and he had just waved good-bye to a friend and business partner.  The marketplace bustled with people as he began a leisurely walk home.  He bought a flavoured drink from a smiling girl, and sat for a moment on a step to enjoy it.

A beggar sat on the ground across from him, between a fruit stand and a basket maker, his thin and aged hand outstretched as it had been for years now.  Someone placed a coin in his palm, and though the person was gone too quickly to see it, the frail old man pressed his hands together and raised them to his forehead, bowing in thanks for the small kindness.

He took the last sips of his drink as he continued watching the old man.  He stood, paused for a moment, and walked home.

The meal prepared for him that evening was filling and delicious.  He sat, satisfied, closing his eyes for a moment to whisper a thank-you, and for the first time, he heard something with form.

His eyes shot open, and he heard it echo in his mind.

one thing you lack


He didn’t sleep well that night.  The phrase reverberated in his head in concert with the yelping hound across the street.  He rose in the morning, bleary-eyed and disturbed by a dream he couldn’t remember.

The phrase came back to him with every action, with every transaction.  There was urgency in the phrase, as if his very soul depended on it, but there was no tangible direction.

It pestered him as he walked through the market.  It came to him as he sat at a restaurant for lunch.  Later, as he stood in the stable in the evening light, he heard the phrase again.  A young camel nuzzled at his hand as he fed her a date, her lips tickling his palms.

“Have I been kind to you, girl?” he asked.

The camel said nothing, but raised her head and turned an eye toward him.

He gently scratched behind the camel’s ear, and whispered to God, “What do you want me to do?”  The camel overheard, and responded with a deep, croaking, “Maaaaah!”

“I know,” he said.  “One thing I lack.”


He decided to see the Teacher.

He watched him from a distance.  People were gathered all around him, many of them working class types, many others much less than working class.  He even recognized the old man from the market, smiling toothlessly as Jesus shook his fragile hand.

He thought about going home.  He thought that perhaps he could speak to the Teacher when there was not so much of a crowd, or at least when the uglier element had departed.

one thing you lack

He didn’t go home.

He pressed forward through the crowd, and soon found himself just a few feet away from the rabbi Jesus, shoulder to shoulder with the other admirers.   He glanced to his left.  The woman there smelled bad.  He cautioned a glance at his other shoulder.  The man on his right looked mean.  The teacher, in the crowd, stood smiling and shaking a filthy hand.

How does he love these people?  He knew immediately that he should feel guilty for such a thought, but he couldn’t help it.  These people were definitely not in his circle of friends and acquaintances.  He didn’t dislike them, exactly, but he did like them better from a greater distance.

The phrase was with him with every thump in his anxious chest, and it drove him on to brave the unseemly element.

one thing you lack  one thing you lack  ONE THING YOU LACK

Finally, he found the courage to throw his hand forward in a desperate greeting, but somehow, he found that he had fallen at the Teacher’s feet.

Jesus looked down at him, then knelt, and looked him in the eye.

“Can I help you?” the Teacher said, placing a hand on the young man’s shoulder.

“Good Teacher, I’m desperate.  Please tell me, what do I have to do?  I mean, to have life?  I mean, real, enduring life?  What am I missing?”

“You call me good.” said the teacher.  “Why do you call me good?”

The young man looked confused.  “I... Because... you are.  You’re here with these people.  They love you.  It takes a special kind of person to...”

“Only God is good, my friend.  We just get to share in it.”

Jesus stood, lifting the young man gently as he rose.

“So how... How do I do that?” the young man asked.

“You know the commandments.  Don’t commit adultery.  Don’t murder.  Don’t steal.  Don’t lie.  Don’t defraud anyone.  Honour your father and mother.”

“I’ve kept all these commandments all my life!” the young man said, exasperated.  “All of them!  I tithe!  I try to be good to people!  What am I doing wrong?  What am I missing?”

Jesus looked at him, and loved him.

“One thing you lack,” he said, his voice as even as a narrow road.  “Go, sell all your possessions, and give them to the poor.  Then you’ll have life.”

The young man stood there, staring at him, shocked and silent.

“Are you serious?”

Jesus smiled.  “You do that, and you will have more treasure in the Kingdom of God than you’ve ever had before.  Then come, follow me.”

The furrow came back to the young man’s brow.  He felt like his stomach had been pulled out of him, and his heart now sank into the empty cavity.  He turned, and saw the faces of the other people following Jesus.  There was perhaps a full set of teeth for every three people.  That one was obviously a prostitute.  That one looked like he had just stuck a knife in someone.  That one smelled like dead fish and booze.

“You know where to find me.” Jesus said.

The young man walked away, his face weighted with thought, his heart defeated.

“One thing you lack,” he’d said.  “One thing you lack.”


He stood, his bundle of money heavy in his hand, staring at the old beggar.

God he thought, this is impossible.  And his camel brayed behind him.