a priest's musings on the journey

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sermonette: Proper 23B - 15 October 2006

17As 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?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You 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.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, 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.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It 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.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus 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, 30who 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. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. Mark 10:17-31

As Jesus was walking, a rich young man ran up to him and asked him a question. Now, this was not a trick question, like the Scribes and Pharisees were inclined to ask. This man had a legitimate question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It was a question for which he wanted a answer. It was a question asked with humility and sincerity. Jesus was moved by this young man’s search for God. Mark writes that Jesus loved him.

Jesus begins to answer his question by telling him that he should keep the commandments. The young man admits that he has obeyed the commandments since youth. The implication of the young man’s quest is that he knows that there is something more that he must do. He has not stolen, or murdered, or blasphemed God. He has honored his parents and he was a man of honesty and integrity. Yet, he yearned for more; he longed to grow from a good place to a better place; from grace to grace. Jesus replied, “You have done well, but you lack one thing. Sell all that you have, give it to the poor and come, follow me.” This good, righteous man knew that Jesus was right. He knew that he ought to follow Jesus; indeed, he wanted to follow Jesus. But, he could not. It was a risk that he could not take; a cost he was not willing to pay. So, he left sorrowful, as the King James Version says, because he could not afford to live the Christian life.

Many want to make this story about money and about how hard it is for the rich to find a place in God’s kingdom. This is really about discipleship, though. Jesus was not asking him to abandon his wealth because it was evil or immoral for him to be rich. He was asking him to give them up because he was so attached and possessed by them that he could not become attached to Christ. Indeed, he was so attached to them that he could not forsake them in order to follow Christ when he was invited to do so.

What about us? Can we afford to live the Christian life? Have we forsaken the things of the world in order to follow Christ? Is there anything that possesses us and keeps us from growing from holiness to holiness and from grace to grace? Is there a good thing that God is asking us to give up for a better thing? Are we attached to things or ideas or values that dim the light of Christ in our heart?

Like the rich young man, we might feel sad because it IS hard to forsake the things to which we are attached. It IS difficult to trust God enough to walk away from a good thing in faith that God will replace it with a better thing. It seems impossible for us- indeed, if this is what we are called to do, will we indeed find eternal life? The answer, and the Gospel hope with which this reading ends, is that for us it might be impossible; but, with God, nothing is impossible. If we can only muster enough strength and faith to take the first step, then God will meet us and take us the rest of the way. God will bless the small thing that we ARE able to do, and the Holy Spirit will take us to that higher place and more intimate relationship with God and God’s people.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:31 AM


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