On Sunday I preached about Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler and also about the Broadway musical Billy Elliot. Jesus loved the young man enough to tell him that he lacked one thing. To find the life he was missing, Jesus said the man needed to sell all he had and give it to the poor. The young man went away sad, but Jesus wasn’t trying to be hard on him. The passage is very clear that Jesus “looked at him and loved him.”
The musical Billy Elliot is loved, especially by gay men, because of the courage and beauty of Billy being willing to dance despite the cultural pressure that threatens to crush the artistic spirit from his soul. That truly is a great gift from this work of art. Now, I know this is a sacrilegious interpretation (Surely you are used to me sacrilegiously interpreting scripture, so why not Broadway musicals, too?!?), yet I sometimes wonder if, in the end, the real courage in the story isn’t seen in Billy’s father’s love.
In the Gospel lesson, the rich young man went away unable to sell all he had and change his social status, even for the love of Jesus. Mr. Elliot took a while, but he realized eventually that his love for his son was more important and powerful than anything else. He gave up his self-understanding and his place in his culture, his family, and in his mates’ eyes. He gave up what he believed about life and about manhood.
He changed his mind. He was willing to do whatever it took so his son could answer his call. Yes, it takes courage to defy social expectations in order to follow your dreams like Billy did, but there is a nobility of spirit that comes from selling all you have and following the way of Jesus-the way of love that isn’t about your dreams, but is about making others’ dreams come true.
Maybe Jesus wants to help us find what it is we lack, that one thing that will allow our life to be a part of making God’s dreams for this world come true.
Rev. Michael Piazza