By: Matt Gordon
Some time ago I heard an anecdote about catching orangutans. I guess some folks are into that sort of thing. Who isn’t into that? Orangutans. Apparently they are firmly against it. So much so that they get pretty violent with those partaking in this activity, and they have a strength that matches their zeal. An adult orangutan is able and willing to rip your arms from your body, which, you know, is one type of party of trick.
But along comes this guy. He is in front of an orangutan-bearing tree. And he holds up a sign for the camera that says: “How to catch an orangutan.” Great way to go viral because come on? Who doesn’t want to see a guy get separated from his arms!?
The guy takes a berry of some sort in his hand, creates a small hole in the earth, and then drops the berry into the hole. He then does just a terrible job of hiding in some nearby bushes. It appears he will keep his arms, but filling them with an orangutan feels like a longshot—surely there is more to this “plan”?
In Mark 10, Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem—and let me just pause there: how do you think Jesus walked? Believer or not in Jesus’ divinity, the cat was special, right? He garnered a following and started a few thousand year old movement—so God or not, he surely walked cooler than I do. Style and (fittingly) grace, I would think. Or maybe he just lumbered around in paradoxical fashion. I don’t know.
What I do know is that someone approached him—so there’s that. He walked in a way to be approached. A man hustles up to Jesus, bows before him, and asks what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.
I think that word is interesting here: inherit. There is almost an economical thinking already eking into the conversational ledger.
Jesus answers with some common commandments.
“All of these I have kept since I was a boy!” the man declares. Yes, it says declares. First, that would indicate that he is proud of it. He is a “good” guy, just ask him. Second, he did this since he was a boy, which could imply that there was some time before his morality. Otherwise, he would have just said, “Yeah, I’ve never broken those commandments” or “I’ve always been great.” But doing this since a time that isn’t birth—leaves some mystery, right? Can you picture him as a murderous baby before changing his wicked baby ways? Probably not what he meant, I guess, but fun to think about.
Kind of like it is fun to think about that one dopey guy hiding in the bushes, confident in his abilities to catch an orangutan. But if you were going to think about that, as you watched the video, you had better think fast because almost instantly an orangutan creeps up, looks left and looks right, and plunges his hand into the hole.
The “hunter” emerges despite the danger. The orangutan sees him and begins contorting and flailing angrily, and you expect the man to use his legs to save his arms—RUN, man!!
He doesn’t run. He smirks instead. Then he takes a net, drapes it over the writhing, seething primate, and holds up a sign to the camera: “How to catch an orangutan.”
Jesus looks at the moral man before him. The man looks at Jesus, ready to gain his inheritance—ready to add eternal life to his long list of assets.
His assets. His everything.
Jesus loves him and speaks: “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
This man knew to ask Jesus about eternal life. Whether Jesus had a cool walk or not, his reputation preceded him. He was the keeper of life; he had an otherworldly power. And this man had just been invited to have that same life and join Jesus’ crew!
Here is what happens next: “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”
The man favored what he had over what Jesus had. He was sad because he knew this was irrevocably misguided. This was nonsensical. This was absurd. This was disastrous. Walk away from this? From Jesus? This man had all those good deeds and all those good things—all that wealth. Yet here was Jesus: if true, the God of all the things.
Crestfallen, he walked away, unable to see past his own fading kingdom to the better, unending Kingdom of another.
Apparently, orangutans love a certain type of berry. I don’t know what it is. If the orangutan is anything like me then it is a Crunch Berry. But whatever the case, the orangutan values this berry. Craves this berry. And the orangutan from our story reaches in to grab the berry, and once it is in his grasp, he will not let it go. For anything. His open hand can enter and leave the hole in the ground, but his clenched fist is too large, too fixed, too rigid to exit. The berry is his everything, and, as net is draped over him, it will cost him everything too. All the strength and ability to choose freedom and future berries innumerable, but an unrelenting clutch on what is right here, right now. The berry is a neutral thing made deadly. He just can’t let it go.
“Jesus looked on the man and loved him.” That is what is said just before Jesus tells him to go sell everything. It is love. It is a love that seeks to free us from ourselves, even if we might be the last to agree; even if we get mad; even if we walk away sad. He loves us and our good enough to whisper, “Let go.”
If a comical instructional video about catching me were made, I wonder what I’d grasp to death?
Maybe if I listen for that whisper, I can find out before I feel the net on my back.