Mark 10:17-31 Rich man is called to sell all he has and follow Jesus.
We had technical difficulties this Sunday. The sermon text is below.
As they journey towards Jerusalem, the disciples and Jesus have this encounter. It is an encounter that we have probably heard preached on a number of times over the years. And it is a passage that we have probably heard applied to wealth. Perhaps it is one of the few passages we have heard applied to wealth. So what if we change the emphasis?
As Jesus and the disciples get ready to start their own journey, a man runs up to them. The man has a question for Jesus. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the man asks. Jesus answers with the commandments, and the man responds that he has kept all of them since his youth. Jesus looks at him, loves him, and tells him he is lacking just one thing. All the man needs to do is sell everything he owns, and give the money to the poor, then he will have treasure in heaven. At that point, he should follow Jesus. When the man hears this, he is shocked, and goes away sad, for he has many possessions.
That’s a story we’ve probably heard before. We’ve probably heard more than one sermon on this passage, often called “the rich young ruler,” and they have probably been about the challenge of money and wealth. They may have made us uncomfortable, or left us with the enduring image of trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle. Perhaps it left us with that often misquoted verse in our memory, deeply embedded, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Maybe we got stuck on the last being first and the first being last, and how that works, or doesn’t work, or how it applies to us. The good news is that we’ve already heard most, if not all of those sermons. Those sermons also tend to get a little cynical, which isn’t really Laurel’s thing. That leaves us free to go another direction in this sermon.
This passage comes as Jesus and the disciples are starting on a journey, and we read it here, on the first Sunday of Lent, as we join them on the journey. This passage is a beginning, a new start, a first step. On this journey, Jesus is going to teach the disciples, those then, and these now, what he wants them to know. This is the first lesson. The first lesson is important. It’s going to set the tone for everything that comes after. So what lesson is Jesus teaching in this passage? Is it:
- The basics of the commandments;
- Selling everything and giving the proceeds to the poor;
- How hard it is for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God;
- That it is really hard for camels to go through the eye of a needle;
- That there are things we can’t do;
- That God can do anything;
- That the last will be first;
- That the first will be last;
- That there are things we can’t do AND that God can do anything;
- That we need to leave everything to follow Jesus;
- What we must do to inherit eternal life (the question that started everything);
- Or some combination of the above?
Today our conversation starts with the original question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s a question that still gets asked an awful lot in the church and in the world, and may be phrased slightly differently, such as “What must I do to be saved?” or “How do I get to Heaven?” or “How do I not go to Hell?” The question assumes that we are in charge of what happens to us, and that we can make these sort of things happen. And you know what happens when we assume things, right?
Meanwhile, a large part of the answer that Jesus gives to the disciples about the man’s question (remember, the man left, a bit depressed about the answer that Jesus gave him) is that some things aren’t possible for mortals. Specifically, when asking, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus answers, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” The man leaves, because it doesn’t seem possible for him to give up everything he has, to give away all of his assets, and to give those assets to the poor, so that he can then come and follow Jesus. The disciples stay to hear the answer, except the answer isn’t one they are ready for. Honestly, it’s not one we’re ready for, either.
What must we do to be saved? How do we get into heaven? What must we do to inherit eternal life?
“You can’t do it,” Jesus says. “God has to do it.” or,
“You can’t do it,” Jesus says. “I have to do it.”
That is the message this Lent, and the basic message, the first lesson. God is the one doing the saving. God is the one giving eternal life. God is one taking the lead. It isn’t about what we do. It’s about what God does.
And the way that God does salvation, eternal life, and resurrection is Jesus Christ. So what do we need to see from Jesus in this passage?
- He loves the man.
- He loves the man who has kept all this commandments from his youth and who yet cannot give up his wealth.
- Jesus loves the man who ends up walking away from him.
While the man isn’t willing to give up his wealth to follow Jesus, Jesus isn’t willing to give up the man,
or the disciples,
or the women,
Jesus loves you.
Jesus loves me.
Jesus loves them.
Jesus loves us.
Starting out on the Lenten journey, let that be our first lesson.
To God alone be the glory. Amen.
As you go, go in love.
Go knowing that God’s love is not conditional.
Go knowing that God’s love embodied looks like Jesus Christ.
And may the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit be with us now, and always. Amen.