The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Mark 10:17-31

IN THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY, WE HAVE THIS VERY FAMILIAR STORY ABOUT A MAN WHO KNEELS AT THE FEET OF JESUS TO ASK HIM A QUESTION. IN MARK’S GOSPEL, ALL THOSE WHO KNEEL AT THE FEET OF JESUS ARE IN NEED OF HEALING; SO IT IS WITH THIS MAN, ALTHOUGH HE MAY NOT HAVE SEEN IT THAT WAY. THERE IS NO REASON TO DOUBT THE SINCERITY OF HIS QUESTION, NOR OF WHAT HE SAYS ABOUT HIMSELF, SINCE JESUS LOOKED AT HIM WITH LOVE.

“GOOD TEACHER,” HE BEGINS, “WHAT MUST I DO TO INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE?” JESUS’ RESPONSE OF “WHY DO YOU CALL ME GOOD? NO ONE IS GOOD BUT GOD ALONE,” APPEARS TO HAVE A TWO – FOLD PURPOSE. THE FIRST IS TO DETERMINE IF THE MAN’S ADDRESS IS MERELY A SOCIAL CONVENTION, OR IF HE IS RECOGNIZING JESUS AS THE CHRIST OF GOD. THE SECOND IS TO IMMEDIATELY ELEVATE THE QUESTION FROM THAT OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR TO THE CONSIDERATION OF THE PURPOSE AND ACTION OF GOD. JESUS REINFORCES THIS BY SAYING, “YOU KNOW THE COMMANDMENTS,” THE LAWS GOD GAVE TO YOU, THEN GIVES HIM A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE LAW PERTAINING TO RIGHT RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN PEOPLE.

THE RESPONSE OF THE MAN, “TEACHER, I HAVE KEPT ALL THESE SINCE MY YOUTH,” MUST BE TAKEN AS SINCERE, SINCE JESUS LOOKED AT HIM WITH LOVE. IN LOVE, JESUS TOLD HIM WHAT HE MUST DO; “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.” THIS THE MAN COULD NOT OR WOULD NOT DO, SINCE HE COULD NOT PART WITH HIS MANY POSSESSIONS, AND COULD NOT FOLLOW JESUS, BUT WENT AWAY SHOCKED AND GRIEVING.

WHAT WE POSSESS OFTEN POSSESSES US. PERHAPS NOT AS BAD AS GOLUM LUSTING AFTER HIS ‘PRECIOUS’ IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS, BUT THE DESIRE TO POSSESS THINGS, MONEY, OR EVEN ANOTHER PERSON, FORMS CHAINS ON OUR SPIRITS WHICH BIND US TO THE STUFF OF THIS WORLD, AND CAN PREVENT US FROM FOLLOWING JESUS INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. THIS DESIRE IS INSIDIOUS, AND CAN SNEAK UP UPON US IN WAYS OF WHICH WE ARE COMPLETELY UNAWARE. LUTHER ONCE SAID, “SHOW ME WHAT YOU LOVE MOST IN THIS LIFE, AND I WILL SHOW YOU YOUR GOD.”

WHEN JESUS TURNED TO HIS DISCIPLES AND SAID HOW HARD IT WAS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE WEALTH TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THEY WERE CONFUSED, BECAUSE IT HAD LONG BEEN ASSUMED THAT SINCE ALL GOOD THINGS COME FROM GOD, THOSE WHO HAD THE MOST MUST BE BLESSED BY GOD. JESUS’ COMMENTS ABOUT WEALTH AS AN IMPEDIMENT TO THE KINGDOM COMPLETELY OVERTURNED THE DISCIPLES UNDERSTANDING OF THE SOCIAL ORDER. JESUS WAS NOT SAYING THAT WE SHOULD ALL LIVE AS ITINERANT BEGGARS, BUT THAT THE MORE WE HAVE THE GREATER THE DANGER THAT WE WOULD VALUE WHAT WE HAVE MORE THAN OUR LOVE FOR GOD. PETER’S PROTEST THAT THEY HAD GIVEN UP EVERYTHING TO FOLLOW JESUS ILLUSTRATED JESUS’ POINT; PETER AND THE OTHERS WERE PROUD OF WHAT THEY GAVE UP TO FOLLOW JESUS, AND SO STILL VALUED WHAT THEY NO LONGER HAD.

POSSESSIONS HOLD ONTO US MORE THAN WE REALIZE. I CAME FROM A VERY POOR FAMILY, AND, WHEN I GRADUATED FROM WEST POINT I WAS FINALLY ABLE TO BUY MY FIRST GOOD SUIT. I WENT TO BROOKS BROTHERS IN NEW YORK AND BOUGHT AN ENGLISH HARRIS TWEED SUIT WITH A VEST. IN TODAY’S VALUE IT WOULD BE ABOUT 1500 DOLLARS. I LOVED THAT SUIT. I LOOKED GOOD IN THAT SUIT. OVER TIME, OF COURSE, IT NO LONGER FIT ME, BUT I COULD NOT GIVE IT UP; I CARRIED IT WITH ME ALL OVER THE WORLD. SOME ELEVEN YEARS LATER, I WAS A MEMBER OF A CONGREGATION THAT WAS HAVING A TAG SALE FOR THE POOR NEIGHBORHOOD AROUND IT. AFTER BEING SUFFICIENTLY HARASSED, I WAS PERSUADED TO GIVE MY SUIT TO THE SALE. I HAPPENED TO BE ON DUTY AT THE SALE, AND LOOKED AT THE PRICE ON MY SUIT; IT WAS A DOLLAR FIFTY. I WAS SHOCKED AND GRIEVED. AN ELDERLY MAN CAME IN, LIKED THE SUIT, TRIED IT ON, AND IT FIT HIM LIKE IT WAS MADE FOR HIM. HE GAVE ME A DOLLAR FIFTY, AND STARTED TO LEAVE BUT WITHOUT THE VEST. WHEN I TRIED TO GIVE HIM THE VEST, HE TOLD ME HE DIDN’T WANT IT. I WAS STUNNED. HOW COULD HE NOT WANT THE VEST TO MY SUIT? I WOULD NOT LET HIM LEAVE THE CHURCH UNTIL HE TOOK THE VEST WITH MY SUIT. HE MUST HAVE THOUGHT I WAS CRAZY. EVEN IN THE ACT OF GIVING IN CHARITY, THAT WHICH I HAD ONCE POSSESSED STILL POSSESSED ME.

THERE IS MUCH TALK THESE DAYS OF INCOME INEQUALITY, BUT IT IS CERTAIN THAT IN ANY SOCIAL SYSTEM SOME WILL HAVE MORE THAN OTHERS. NONE OF HERE IS FABULOUSLY WEALTHY, YET SOME HAVE MORE THAN OTHERS; THAT IS JUST THE WAY OF THE WORLD. WE ARE NOT, HOWEVER, CALLED TO THE WAY OF THE WORLD, BUT TO THE WAY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. IT IS NOT HOW MUCH WE HAVE, BUT WHAT WE DO WITH IT THAT IS THE POINT. DO WE GRASP AND HANG ON TO WHATEVER WE HAVE, BE IT A LOT OR A LITTLE, OR DO WE TREAT ALL THINGS THAT COME TO OUR HANDS AS STEWARDS OF GOD’S GIFTS AND ACT ACCORDINGLY. BEING OPEN HANDED IN CHARITY WILL NOT GET US INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD, NOR WILL ANYTHING WE DO OR FAIL TO DO. AS JESUS SAID, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR MORTALS TO BE SAVED BY WHAT THEY DO; BUT NOT SO WITH GOD. FOR GOD, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.

AS CALLED FOLLOWERS OF JESUS, KEEPING OUR EYES ON HIM, AND KNOWING AND TRUSTING IN THE GRACE OF GOD, WE ARE FREED FROM THE CHAINS OF POSSESSION, AND ARE FREED TO ACT WITH OPEN HANDED GRACE TO OTHERS. IN THE KINGDOM, WE ARE IN A NEW RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER, AND WHATEVER WE HAVE LEFT BEHIND, IN REALITY AND IN SPIRIT, IS MORE THAN COMPENSATED BY THE JOYS AND GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD, EVEN IN THE FACE OF PERSECUTIONS; AND PERSECUTIONS WILL COME. WHEN THOSE STUDENTS IN ROSEBURG WERE ASKED BY THE CRAZED GUNMAN WHAT RELIGION THEY WERE, AND THE FIRST WAS KILLED BECAUSE HE SAID, “I’M CHRISTIAN,” THE SECOND SAID, “I.M CATHOLIC;” AND OTHERS CONTINUED TO CONFESS THEIR FAITH. TO FOLLOW THE CHRIST OF GOD IS THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IN THIS LIFE, MORE THAN ALL THE RICHES IN THE WORLD, AND EVEN MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF.

AS WE WERE LEAVING THE TEMPLE MOUNT IN JERUSALEM, WE PASSED A TINY GATE IN THE RETAINING WALL. AN OLD MAN WAS THERE, AND HE TOLD US THAT THIS WAS THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE TO WHICH JESUS REFERRED. IN THE GREEK IT IS “THE,” NOT “AN” EYE. THE GATE IS LOW ENOUGH THAT I WOULD HAVE TO STOOP A BIT, AND JUST A LITTLE WIDER THAN MY SHOULDERS. IT IS JUST POSSIBLE FOR A CAMEL TO FIT THROUGH, BUT IT WOULD HAVE TO BE ON ITS KNEES. CAMELS DO NOT MOVE ON THEIR KNEES SO THEY CAN’T GO THROUGH THE GATE. THE RICH MAN STARTED ON HIS KNEES BEFORE JESUS, BUT WHEN HE GOT UP HE WALKED AWAY. RICH OR POOR, THE ONLY STARTING PLACE FOR US IS ON OUR KNEES BEFORE JESUS, AND THE ONLY WAY TO GO WHEN WE GET UP IS TO FOLLOW AFTER HIM.
AMEN

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