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Trinity 19



Cultures vary with respect to telling it straight. Should you be blunt in your speech, normally or never? In some cultures, perhaps Italy and part of America, the done thing is always to say it as you see it. In at least some parts of England, that would be dreadfully impolite. One must save face for the other person, avoid embarrassing them or showing them up. Of course, that can go hand-in-hand with gossiping about them behind their back. Different pockets within the diocese of Worcester will have their own conventions. Different families have their own subculture. I wonder how direct you normally are speaking to others? I wonder how you prefer others to speak to you?

The Bible includes examples of very direct speech, and also of very effective indirect speech. For an example of the latter, take the unenviable task given to the prophet Nathan: point out to the King that his adultery and murder weren’t pleasing to God. Nathan did so by telling a story, a parable, about a rich man who stole the treasured lamb of a poor man. Once David’s righteous indignation was aroused, Nathan revealed his strategy: you are that man – you stole the beloved wife of the poor man (and then had him killed).

The poet Emily Dickinson counsels similarly:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant, she says. Why is that?

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind 

In his parables, Jesus often told it slant, coming in sideways, leaving people stories and paradoxes to puzzle over and ponder. The truth would be revealed to those who were keen to discover it.

In today’s encounter with the rich young man, however, there is nothing slant about Jesus’ speaking. He tells it straight. He is unambiguous and direct.

His message to the rich young is this:

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.’ 

It’s certainly not very English, is it - being so direct, and talking about money, both in the same sentence.

So why did Jesus do it? Why did Jesus voice such an extreme prescription? What was going on?

Well, we’re told precisely why Jesus said what he said. When the man ran up to him and knelt before him, asking for Jesus guidance, we are told that Jesus, looking at him, loved him. Jesus was motivated by love. He wanted what was best for this man. He wanted that which would enable him to flourish. He wanted him to know the abundance of God’s goodness. He wanted God’s purposes to be worked out in this young man’s life.

It was because Jesus loved him that he spoke so directly to him.

The challenge for the young man was whether to hear and accept what Jesus said to him. His initial response was not positive. We are told that he went away grieving, because he had great wealth. It was a very challenging message to hear. However, tradition suggests that he may have come to a change of mind, and ended up as one of Jesus close followers.

As with many of us, it can take a while to process major news, or a major challenge.

The poet TS Eliot said that humankind cannot bear very much reality. The truth often hurts. However, the truth also sets us free, if we can be humble enough to accept it, to embrace it, and to adjust our lives accordingly.

As the letter to the Hebrews puts it, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing and penetrating, able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Put like that, it sounds painful. But the word of God is the instrument of life, love and liberation. It speaks to truth that sets us free. With the rich young man, it seems that his possessions, perhaps intended as a safety net, had ended up entangling him. The word of God cut through that web of entanglement, and set him free.

The question for us is this: do we want to know the truth, to see the truth, to open our eyes to reality?

If so, let’s ask God to help us hear his living and active word – through Scripture, through other people, through everyday events, in and through our pondering. God, looking at us, loves us. God, looking at you, loves you. May we hear and embrace what God would say to us.


  1. Can you think of a time when it was hard for you to hear the truth? With hindsight, are you glad that you did?
  2. What do you think can get in the way of us hearing the truth from others, or from God?
Page last updated: Thursday 3rd August 2023 12:51 PM
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