Spirit & Truth # 200
“Be a Fish”
By Rev. Greg Smith
In Luke 18:18-30, a rich, young ruler came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. He said that he had kept all the commandments from his youth. Jesus replied that he lacked one thing: he must sell all that he has and give it to the poor. The man went away sad, because he had many possessions. The Lord then told his disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."
You’re missing the point if you think this story is about money. It’s really about the idols we have in our lives. Augustine said, “Idolatry is worshiping anything that ought to be used, or using anything that ought to be worshiped.” The young ruler needed to get rid of his idol in order to put God first. When he was unable to do that because his money meant too much to him, he abandoned Jesus.
Most idols aren’t inherently bad things. The worst kind of idol is the thing that’s good. Wholesome, fun activities can become idols if they keep us away from church on Sunday mornings. Things like patriotism, good health, and charitable work can become idols when we lose our godly focus in order to follow them. Too often we can pursue good things, in exchange for the best things that God has for us. Even your family can be an idol, if you let caring for them deprive you of the time you need to give to God in prayer and the reading of God’s word. Only when our priorities are straight can we truly be effective for our families, our churches, and our God.
There’s an old story about two monks who came to a rushing river. There they saw a lovely young woman trying to cross. The older monk graciously offered to carry the young woman across the torrent to the shore on the other side. When all three reached the other bank, they left the young woman and the monks went on their way. For some time, the younger monk said nothing to the older monk, but eventually he could contain it no longer. “We monks are not allowed to touch a woman,” he said, “especially one that is young and beautiful!” The older monk replied with a smile, “I left the woman a long time ago at the bank. It looks like you’re still carrying her.”
God wants us to shed those things that have become idols in our lives. Anything that has taken a higher priority than God in our thought-life must be abandoned. In Prayer, Simon Tugwell writes, “St. Ambrose gave his congregation some very good advice. Using the old Christian symbol, he compared them in this stormy world to a fish swimming in the sea. And to them he said: ‘Be a fish.’ We must learn how not to be swamped by the [tempting] situations that we find ourselves in. We must learn how to get through them with a minimum of damage, and a maximum of profit.”
Jesus urges us to let our idols go. Leave your temptations behind you, and devote yourself only to God. Be a fish, and let anything that distracts you from God float on by.