SCRIPTURE READING 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.
MESSAGE “Looking at Him … Looking at You”
Perhaps you have heard this story about the man who approached Jesus with his important question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s found in the Gospel of Mark 10:17-31. In Mark’s Gospel he is simply described as a man. In Matthew’s Gospel he is described as rich. In Luke’s Gospel we read that he is also young.
Maybe this is a question on your mind, too? Or maybe it appears in your thoughts in different forms: “What’s really important in life and what really matters?”, or “How shall I live with faith and integrity in this troubled world?”, or “Will God ever consider me good enough?”
Because of the way Jesus answers the man’s question this story could be considered the ultimate showdown between the hope of the Gospel and the power of money. After Jesus reviews the important commandments, the man responds that he has followed each of them faithfully.
But then Jesus explains that unless the man gives up all of his wealth and possessions he will not obtain that heavenly reward he desires. There it is, the toughest punch line in the Bible, “give up everything you own”. The man, the story reports, walked away because he had great wealth and possessions, and he could not part with them.
“Give up everything”. Wow. We sometimes have trouble giving up anything, much less everything! Think about how hard it is to give up the things you want to give up! Now add to that the things it would be hard to give up. Is this really the route to happiness and eternity?
Giving up everything is a tall order for just about anyone. So through the centuries people have found many ways to DEFLECT the impact of Jesus’ answer. Some have tried to explain that it is not wealth per se that Jesus challenges, only this particular man whose wealth had clouded his understanding of God. By this explanation, wealth, even great wealth, is OK as long as you keep it in the proper balance, as long as God is in the mix.
Others explain that Jesus couldn’t have meant this to be such a severe standard, because as parents of children, or children of parents, we have a responsibility to care for others in our families. To give away “everything” would be irresponsible if it’s our duty to feed and clothe our children, or provide care for aging parents. So, we conclude, Jesus wouldn’t want us to give up everything if it would cause hurt to others!
If the text is only directed at the wealthy it’s easy to exempt ourselves by thinking we are not that wealthy. Even millionaires feel the pinch of unexpected repair bills, medical costs or taxes. “Jesus can’t be talking about me!”, is what we all tend to think. But another way of looking at this is that Americans, even the poorest of us, are remarkably wealthy compared to much of the world. Maybe we’re not exempt all, and Jesus’ words are aimed right at people like us.
It may be directly aimed at wealth, but maybe something greater than wealth. The man was thinking that heaven and eternity are only about him, not thinking about anyone else. In his understanding of faith there was no holding of hands, no awareness of community. Many things might block our awareness of that, wealth, class, race, privilege, gates, walls, barriers, boundaries, borders.
At our Bible Study another insight was offered, that this man misunderstood the grace of God. Some people approach Jesus by saying “Help me, I’m a sinner”, but this fellow doesn’t ask for help because he’s already made it. But you can’t earn your way into heaven, you can’t get to heaven through perfection. You, me, all of us get to heaven because that’s what God wants to give us. The first step is to receive what God is so willing to give.
This is the part of this story that we miss if we go right to the debate about wealth. It is this, that before offering his challenging answer Jesus looked at the man with love. If we read this story desperately trying to exempt ourselves from Jesus’ instruction we are missing the point. He looks at us with love. When it comes to generosity and sharing Jesus is simply inspiring us with love … to love more, to love others, to love across boundaries, to love the left out and forgotten, to love with a lot less careful calculation or fear.
All of us struggle with the great questions of the day, concerning how we can live most justly and peaceably with so many competing values all around us. Jesus could evaluate our different life choices and easily condemn us, but, instead, he looks upon us with love.
I am sorry that the man walked away from Jesus because he interpreted Jesus’ words to be impossible to live by. He missed the main point: Jesus looked upon him with love. That’s not condemnation, it’s not judgment, it’s not damnation. Jesus offered love. Jesus looked at the man with love, today he’s looking at all of us with love.
In this season of stewardship or any other time, the real challenge is to ask ourselves not “Am I able to meet Jesus’ impossible standards”, but, instead, “Am I noticing his love, am I feeling his love, is Jesus’ love changing me?” Am I ready to engage with him, am I ready to talk about the challenging obstacles that block our way forward? If the answer to that is “yes”, then God has an excellent place to start!