Day 171: Matthew 19:26

This is impossible for human beings, but for God everything is possible.

For the past two days I have reflected on the man who came to Jesus and asked him “what good thing” he could do to gain eternal life.  Jesus told him that there was no specific “good thing,” but that he should obey the commandments, especially those that promote love, peace, and harmony.  The man said that he obeyed all of the commandments, but wanted to know what else he must do.  Jesus told him to sell everything he owns and give the money to the poor, but the young man went away sad because he was very rich and apparently unwilling to follow Jesus’ advice.  Jesus then tells his disciples, “It is much harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.”   When the disciples heard this, they were completely amazed. “Who, then, can be saved?” they asked. (Matthew 19:24-25).  Jesus replies with these very comforting words, “This is impossible for human beings, but for God everything is possible.”

My mother believed in going to church. Every Sunday we attended worship services and Sunday School classes.  While mom was a firm believer in the positive influence of the church, she was not as enthusiastic about the spiritual aspects of the faith.  She was definitely a skeptic when it came to the power of God.  Very often on the way home from church she would complain when the sermon included anything that didn’t seem “sensible.”  She did not believe in miracles.  I think she considered the very notion of miracles somewhat offensive, like an insult to her intelligence.

When I started dating a pastor, whom I later married, there were some interesting moments.  I remember the first time he came for dinner at my parents’ house.  As soon as the food was on the table, she sat down in her chair, looked straight at my future husband, and say, “So, what’s all this about miracles?”

I think she was trying to see if he was a flaky kind of pastor, or a sensible one. She was always one to want to lay all of her cards out one the table and she expected others to do the same.

Being an experienced pastor, he gave a very diplomatic answer.  It was something about how life itself is the greatest miracle and how there are unexplained blessings going on all around us all the time.  Basically he said that a miracle is in the eye of the beholder and that it’s just a matter of how you choose to look at things.  Whatever he said seemed sensible enough to satisfy her and she never brought it up again.

Jesus says that for God, everything is possible.  It certainly seems like an obvious conclusion to me.  God created the universe.  If he can do that, he can certainly do a few tweaks here and there.  He is, after all, “almighty”.

Knowing what I know now, I think I could explain miracles in a way that my very sensible mother would have approved of.  Having spent a lot of time studying statistical analysis methodologies in my academic career, I am familiar with the concept of statistical outliers – scientifically documented, unexplained, improbable results.   In a scientific study one looks for a correlation between two variables.  When you plot a perfect correlation on a graph, it looks like a diagonal line.  For example, the more calories one consumes on a daily basis, the more you will weigh.  Weight and calorie intake increase proportionately.  Ummm….usually.  The problem is that in every scientific study there are outliers.

In the chart below the horizontal axis is a person’s calorie intake and the vertical axis is weight.  The results of this scientific study (the dots) can easily generalized into the diagonal line, representing the very clear correlation between how much you eat and how much you weigh.  The chart shows that if you eat more, you weigh more.  If you eat less, you weigh less.  Usually, but now always, because this study also has outliers (unexpected, atypical results) that I have circled for emphasis.  The outlier in the top left is the poor guy who has a weight problem even though he eats like a bird.   And an outlier on the lower right is the skinny guy who can eat whatever he wants and never gain a pound.  These weird guys are the outliers, the freaks of nature, the evidence that the universe is not as ordered as we are sometimes led to believe.

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Sometimes scientists may take the time to try to explore the outliers, but usually they are ignored.  The establishment of a correlation is all that’s important, so the deviant outliers are considered irrelevant and unimportant.  It is assumed that there are simply other unknown variables at work that influence the results in these isolated instances.  But to me, these outliers are the miracles.  They are the exception to the rule.  They are the people who are given 6 months to live, but end up living for another 30 years.  They are the instantaneous healings.  They are the financial windfalls that save our homes or our ministries.  They are the lost pets that make their way back to their owners after 2 years.  They are the barren couples who suddenly conceive.  They are the miracles that bend the rules and defy all odds.  They appear in every scientific study, mockingly defying the rules and challenging our expectations.  These outliers are the miracles.

And yet even science has begun to recognize that one of the factors that can produce outliers is faith.  It is increasingly acknowledged that a person is more likely to recover from a serious illness if they believe that they will get well, if they have the “will to live.”

Back to the scripture – Jesus says that for God everything is possible. To truly believe this is to have faith, which Jesus tells us on Day 154 is the key to releasing God’s power into the world: “I assure you that if you have faith as big as a mustard seed, you can say to this hill, ‘Go from here to there!’ and it will go. You could do anything! “   He says that with faith we can do anything!  When we walk in faith we walk in partnership with God.

Another key to releasing God’s power into the world is what Jesus told us on Day 57: “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks will receive, and anyone who seeks will find, and the door will be opened to those who knock.”

Everything is possible for God, so all things are possible through God.  Even those miracles that my mother was so uncomfortable with.  To me, it’s not at all uncomfortable.  To me, it is the ultimate comfort – especially in times of difficulty.  Everything is possible.  If you believe in the power of God you know that there is always hope.

In the context of this particular scripture, I think Jesus is saying that even though a person is separated from God by the sin of greed, it doesn’t mean that God will not give them eternal life.  Jesus is saying that rather than being a legalistic taskmaster, God is really a bit of a pushover.  His boundless love for humanity apparently covers a multitude of sins.  I think Jesus is saying that no sin is so great that it can’t be forgiven.  Everything is possible.  Don’t count anyone out.  Because even though our God created normal distributions, he also created outliers, just to keep things interesting.   Just to remind us that all things are possible.

What does this scripture say to you?

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