10/14/2018 Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost The text is Mark 10:17-31.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I don’t know if you remember, but a few years ago, there was a placard that some small businesses posted on the wall or on the counter. It read: “The difficult things we can do now. The gospel poses a dilemma that is pretty much impossible for us. No matter how hard we try to squeeze through an eye of a needle, we just can’t do it any more than a camel can do it. Yet, Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to make it through than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
Yes, today’s gospel contains one of the harshest statements that Jesus makes about the problems caused by wealth. The disciples are so perplexed and appalled by what Jesus says that they question him about it. After all, folk theology of the time insisted that a fair and just person who kept the law should be rewarded in this life and in the age to come. And wealth is one such reward. It is a blessing from God.
Now, wealth has always been a blessing and there is nothing wrong with being rich. I know I have dreamed about what I would do if I won one of those big jackpots that are out there right now. Who among us hasn’t? We all wish we had money to burn – and there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with having power and influence. There is nothing wrong with having a big home or the newest model of car with all the bells and whistles. And we should not feel guilty about having enough resources to live comfortably all the days of our lives. There is nothing wrong with any of this, as long as things – that is the possessions and such of this world – are not our priority in life.
Perhaps nothing shows the high esteem we have for things greater than the threat of losing it all. In reading accounts of fire victims, there is little rationale behind priorities. After the disastrous fires in the hills of California, there has been news reports of one person dragging out a mattress and another a surf board. A business man, years ago, was seen grabbing his fax machine, as it were the most precious item on the planet. What we consider to be important when confronted with choices tells us a lot about ourselves. If we don’t have the time to take it all, what would we leave behind?
In today’s gospel, a young man faces this type of crucial test. He may not be facing an imminent fire or hurricane and loss of all that he has, but he is asked by Jesus to leave his possessions behind and to come and follow him. This man is asked to do more than just leave a burning or flooding building, knowing he can only take a few valued items with him. He is instructed to sell all that he has, that is, to make a conscious choice to rid himself of those things which the world claims to be valuable and give the proceeds to the poor in order to inherit eternal life.
Now, that is a great deal to ask of anyone, especially a rich man. But, whatever we take for granted to be ours to hold onto may be what we are asked to leave behind in order to follow Jesus. We may even be asked to give up what we consider to be our very selves, for a better self that God can see.
Like the man in today’s gospel, we are probably doing nothing which is terribly wrong. By your presence in church today, it is fair to say that you make an effort to worship God and to do the right religious things. Yet, all these things are not enough in order to inherit eternal life. The gift of life is impossible for us to ascertain on the basis of what we have and what we do.
We may be able to purchase large houses. We may be able to add a vacation cottage or a camp, and fancy cars and big boats to the list of our possessions. We may be able to afford to go to Europe, and put our kids though Ivy League colleges and give them a start in the business world. But, we cannot buy eternal life for them any more than we can purchase it for ourselves. All these things, all the possession we have on this earth, will someday be left behind. Like a fire or storm surge sweeping through a home, in the course of time, all will be turned to dust. It is only through the grace of God that any of us can hope to see God face to face. And thanks be to God that he has chosen that which is impossible for us, to become possible by riding on the coattails of Christ Jesus, our Lord, who opens for us the gateway to eternal life through the key of the cross.
The rich man in today’s gospel needs to have his priorities revealed to him, and the price that Jesus demands for discipleship is simply too high for him to bear. He has placed too much trust upon his possessions and centered his life on them for too long to give them up and place himself in the hands of Jesus.
It is a matter of trust and where we place it. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with money or wealth. Jesus doesn’t demand that everyone abandon their home and family, profession and property. The man in today’s gospel is not chastised for being wealthy. For wealth is a gift and a blessing from God. But the man has put too much faith, too much trust and centered too much of his life upon his wealth. He was on his way up the ladder of success and he couldn’t bring himself to leave it all behind to follow our Lord anywhere – and most certainly not to the cross.
My friends, what are you willing to do to inherit eternal life? Are you willing to do what Jesus asks of you to be his follower? Are you willing to center your life on him and upon his cross? Are you willing to trust him above anything else in this world and ride on his coat tails, knowing that in the end anything and everything you have and have done will be left behind? The man in today’s gospel just couldn’t bring himself to do it. May we not follow his example.
May we set aside those things in this world which keep us off center. And may we follow wherever Jesus leads us, trusting in his good will and bearing witness to the glory of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And as you take the journey of faith, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.