THE WORD MARK 10:17-31
“As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” ’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’
This is a challenging text, especially for those of us living the good life. By that I mean money in the bank, maybe even investments, a nice home, well-furnished, nice car, good education and job. That’s me. That’s most of us sitting here today. The closest I’ve come to following the command that Jesus gave this rich man was when I packed up most of my worldly possessions and put them in storage - in exchange for a dorm room with beat-up furniture at Pacific School of Religion, where I went to follow Jesus.
His words continue to challenge me today: “sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven: then come, follow me. … It is easier f or a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” I’m inclined to protest: “I’m not rich!” and yet, I know that I am - not up there with the 2%, but I love my home and my little red FIT.
I give to the poor. Every week I’m bombarded with solicitations from worthy organizations that I’ve given to in the past, asking for more. I can’t give it all away. What would I have to live on? Come on Jesus, this is the 21st century, not the 1st!
We don’t know if the rich man in this story was part of the 2% of his time, but we do know he had many possessions, and they provided his security, or so he thought. But there was something missing, something this Good Teacher might be able to provide. So he knelt before Jesus and asked an important question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jews of that time believed that God rewarded them for following the commandments. He had been rewarded with many possessions. That was a sign of God’s favor. But was this all God asked of him? Or was there something more?
I love Jesus’ first response: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Think about that for a minute. It’s a very human response. I find it intriguing that he didn’t equate himself with God. Was Jesus thinking about his own flaws? Fundamentalists would call me a heretic for that question?
His encounter with this rich man shows the very compassionate and loving nature of Jesus. He looked at him and loved him. Paul Wadell claims that “Love is a way of seeing, and those who love us best see us best,” so “Jesus sees him as he truly is, but in a way that the man is not yet capable of seeing himself.”
It’s as if Jesus could see into his heart, at its deepest level, that he is a good person who has followed the commandments of his faith. But something was missing, and something was holding him back from finding what he truly longed for.
Jesus knew what it was. Did you notice that when he listed the commandments he left out the first and most important one: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.” Is that the one that is missing?
Jesus saw that this man loved his possessions, his wealth, first and foremost, so he challenged him, hoping to free him from all those possessions that possessed him: sell them and give the money to the poor - those 98% on the margins of his life, those in need of justice and generosity. “Then come, follow me.” This was the 1st Century, so following meant leaving home, leaving it all behind. He couldn’t sit in front of a television at home watching Jesus preach on Sunday mornings!
Leaving the 2% to follow the 98%, this was too much to ask. It was not what he expected to hear from this Good Teacher. So he walked away grieving, back to a life that he knew could not satisfy his thirst for something more - could not fill that emptiness.
How are we Christians to interpret this text for our lives today? If Jesus looked at each of us and told us he loved us, what would he see as he looked into our hearts? What would he see that consumes us at the expense of our growing closer to God and God’s kingdom? Or, in other words, who, or what do we put first in our lives?
I identify with this man when I think of what led me to seminary. I had a good life. I tried to follow the rules, but there was something missing from my life as an actress and an artist. Jesus was calling me to deepen my faith on a new journey. To do that I had to leave behind the life I knew - my art and acting - those things that had possessed me at one time. It wasn’t about giving up all my possessions. It was about refocusing my life to reach out to others in need.
We’re not all asked to leave the life we know behind. But what is Jesus asking of you in the 21st Century? The rich man lived in a time, much like our own, where there was a huge divide between the super-rich and the poor. I think he is asking us, much like he was asking the rich man, “Do we, who have so much, have it at the expense of those who have so little? What is our responsibility towards the millions of people who are hungry or homeless? What are we to give up?
Some Christians interpret this text as a lesson on how to get to heaven. It’s all about the afterlife. But Jesus’ challenge to the rich man, and to us, instructs us in how to create the Kingdom of God, or a little bit of heaven, here on earth. Those of us who have been richly blessed, have the responsibility to be a blessing to others. How are you being that blessing?
So often in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ disciples just don’t get it. They appear to be a little dense. But in this story they do ‘get it.’ They’ve left behind families and homes, fishing boats and jobs to follow Jesus. Here he tells them, they will be rewarded both here on earth, and in a life to come. So often our rewards are not in the form of riches or possessions. They come in the form of the peace and joy that comes with loving another and sharing our bounty - in helping someone put food on their table, providing shelter for a homeless family, finding them an affordable place to live.
There is endless need out there. We can’t fill it all. I don’t think Jesus expects us to, but he does expect us to do all that we can. We keep providing opportunities here at Eliot to reach out to those less fortunate:
Nadja is arranging drivers to take families at the Home Suites Inn to the grocery store. Are you willing to provide a ride? We’ve included an insert in our bulletins of ways you can participate in a Halloween party for the children there. Sign up on our What’s Happening at Eliot in the hallway. There is a basket right outside the sanctuary door for food collections for the food bank across the street.
This scripture has prompted me to clean out my closets for the Fall Fair in hopes that someone can use what I no longer have need for.
It also has encouraged me to write a check for the Neighbors in Need offering that is being taken in UCC churches across the country this morning. The United Church of Christ encourages our church to donate to five special offerings throughout the year, each for a different worthy cause. Neighbors in Need is one I’m particularly supportive of, so I decided to show a brief film from their website so that you can better understand where this money goes to.
In 2017 Massachusetts churches and organizations had five recipients:
- First Parish Church of Newbury Community Food Pantry
- South Congregational Church / Pioneer Valley Project - Springfield Interfaith Sanctuary and Solidarity Project
- Hadwen Park Congregational Church, UCC - LGBT Asylum Task Force
- Multi-family home for LGBT persons seeking asylum in the U.S. due to persecution in their native country.
- Lakota YouthStay
- World Voices
How will you respond to Jesus’ challenge?