I cherish the style of French novelist Marcel Proust – a style so detailed and so contemplative that, as one editor rejecting Proust's work wrote, it takes one of his characters thirty pages to turn over in bed before falling asleep.
Detailed, interior writing moves me.
The writing of the Bible is not like that. It's amazing how brief, how bam, bam, bam, the stories in Genesis are. Creation! Expulsion from Eden! The first murder! The flood! And yet these rapid-fire narratives have captured imaginations and sparked debate around the world for thousands of years.
My first exposure to Bible stories was listening to them in church. I peopled these sparse narratives. I embroidered their mise-en-scene and provided rich backstories. All this happened in my head spontaneously. Thus these stories have had a hold on me all my life. The combination of their sparseness and their power recruited my creativity to engage with them.
So it is with the man who went away sad.
It's a very brief encounter; only a few sentences in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Jesus was teaching. He was answering questions about marriage. A rich man approached him and asked how he could best live his life. Jesus said follow the commandments. The man asked which ones. Jesus listed them. I already follow those, the guy said.
Now, here's the thing. The man could have stopped there. He could have said, Okay, Jesus. I've got it. I asked you what I should be doing, and you told me something I already do. So I can just move on now, satisfied.
But he didn't.
See? That's how a briefly told story gets under your skin. You pay attention to every detail.
The man asks what else he can do.
And Jesus delivers his zinger. "Sell what you have, give to the poor, and follow me."
In retrospect, how many of us wish we could have been in this man's sandals? Jesus Christ is holding out his hand and saying "Follow me." What a supreme adventure and privilege!
The man merely "goes away sad." He is rich. He doesn't want to sell what he has.
And that's it. That's all we have of the man.
But I see him, and I feel him, too.
I see him as young, and handsome, with lots of the finer things in life, including women, which really are just things to him. I see him as really comfortable, and knowing that craving that only a lucky life can instill: the craving for something other than good fortune.
He's on the brink of entering into splendor and satisfaction beyond his wildest imaginings, and he turns it down for just more of the tawdry same: more coins, more babes, more bread and olive oil. Not even pizza. No tomatoes for another 1,490 plus years.
The story ends there. He is still going away from the best thing he has ever encountered. He is still focused on his material wealth and status. He is still sad.
I talk to him. I try to convince him. Maybe someday I'll write a story about him. No doubt someone else already has.
When a movie ends sadly, I often try to make up a plausible, alternative, happy ending. That's harder to do than it sounds. I can conjure no plausible happy ending for "Age of Innocence," for example, no matter how hard I try. Newland Archer is such a royal screw-up. I can't give Archer a happy ending and remain true to the character Edith Wharton created.
I want to give the man who went away sad a happy ending, but I want to be true to his character, and I want to honor his choices.
I hope the story has been written that creates a believable rich man who went away sad, but eventually found happiness.
Today's reflection brought to you by the eight of cups, a card that depicts a man walking away sad.