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

 


ON OUR TOUR OF THE HOLY LAND IN 2013, AS WE WERE LEAVING THE TEMPLE MOUNT, AN OLD ARAB YELLED OUT TO US, POINTING AT A SMALL GATE IN THE WALL, “THERE IS THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE.” SUPPOSEDLY A CAMEL COULD GET THROUGH IT IF IT WERE FIRST UNLOADED OF ALL THAT IT CARRIED, WHICH IS A NICE CONCEIT, AND A WAY OF INTERPRETING WHAT JESUS IS SAYING. UNFORTUNATELY, I KNOW THAT STORY WAS MADE UP BY A 9TH CENTURY INTERPRETER WHEN THAT SMALL GATE WAS CARVED INTO THE WALL. SO THIS SOMEWHAT GENTLE INTERPRETATION OF THE GOSPEL TEXT MUST BE DISMISSED, AND WE HAVE TO GET AT WHAT JESUS IS REALLY SAYING TO US.

IN EVERY CASE IN THE GOSPELS, WHEN SOMEONE FALLS ON THEIR KNEES IN FRONT OF JESUS, THEY ARE ASKING FOR HEALING, EITHER FOR THEMSELVES OR FOR A LOVED ONE. WHEN MARK BEGINS THIS PASSAGE WITH THE MAN ON HIS KNEES, WE KNOW THAT HE IS IN NEED OF HEALING, EVEN IF THE MAN HIMSELF DOES NOT KNOW THIS. “GOOD TEACHER,” HE ASKS, “WHAT MUST I DO TO INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE?” WHEN JESUS ASKS HIM, “WHY DO YOU CALL ME GOOD? NO ONE IS GOOD BUT GOD ALONE,” HE IS QUESTIONING THE MAN TO SEE IF HE KNOWS OF WHOM HE IS ASKING, OR JUST BEING COURTEOUS. “YOU KNOW THE COMMANDMENTS,” JESUS REPLIES, AND THEN GIVES HIM A SHORT LIST OF THE COMMANDMENTS FROM THE SECOND TABLE OF THE LAW; THE ONES THAT FOCUS ON OUR RIGHT RELATIONSHIP TO EACH OTHER. “TEACHER,” THE MAN RESPONDS, NOTICE THAT HE DROPS THE “GOOD’ IN HIS ADDRESS, “I HAVE KEPT ALL THESE SINCE MY YOUTH.” JESUS, LOOKING AT HIM, LOVED HIM.

HERE IS A MAN WHO, BY THE STANDARDS OF HIS BELIEFS, IS BLAMELESS. HE HAS DONE ALL THAT THE LAW REQUIRED, AND YET, IN HIS HEART, HE KNOWS THERE MUST BE SOMETHING MORE. SOMETHING IS LACKING; WHICH IS WHY HE FINDS HIMSELF AT THE FEET OF JESUS ASKING HOW HE CAN INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE. HE FRAMES THE QUESTION IN LEGAL TERMS, BECAUSE ALL HE KNOWS IS THE LEGALISM IMPLICIT IN THE RIGOROUS INTERPRETATION OF THE LAW OF GOD. TO INHERIT SOMETHING MEANS THAT LEGAL PROVISION HAS BEEN MADE TO PASS ON TO YOU SOMETHING OF VALUE UPON THE DEATH OF ANOTHER. SOMEONE MUST DIE FOR YOU TO GAIN.

DESPITE THE WARNINGS OF THE PROPHETS, THE PEOPLE OF THE TIME BELIEVED THAT THE WEALTHY WERE ESPECIALLY BLESSED BY GOD. THE INFLUENCE OF THE SADDUCEES, WHO DID NOT BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD, BUT HELD THAT GOD REWARDED OR PUNISHED YOU IN THIS LIFE, WAS PERVASIVE. SO WHEN JESUS, OUT OF LOVE, SAYS, “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,” THE MAN IS SHOCKED AND LEAVES GRIEVING. JESUS ASKS HIM TO GIVE UP ALL HE HAS, HIS WEALTH, HIS POSITION IN THE COMMUNITY, HIS POWER, HIS VERY IDENTITY, AND PLACE HIMSELF ALONG SIDE OF THE POOR, THE UNIMPORTANT, AND THE POWERLESS. RECALL THAT JESUS STRESSED THE RIGHT RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER IN THE LAW OF GOD.

NOW WEALTH IS NOT EVIL. THE OFTEN MISQUOTED, “MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL,” IS PROPERLY CITED AS, “THE LOVE OF MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL.” THIS IS WHAT JESUS MEANS WHEN HE SAYS HOW HARD IT WILL BE FOR THE WEALTHY TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD. THE DISCIPLES LOOK AT HIM IN CONFUSION, SO HE SAYS IT AGAIN, AND USES THE IMPOSSIBLE EXAMPLE OF IT BEING EASIER FOR A CAMEL TO GO THOUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE THAN THE RICH TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD. NOW DESPITE THE DISCIPLES USUAL OBTUSENESS, THEY HAD ALREADY GIVEN UP EVERYTHING TO FOLLOW JESUS; THEIR FORMER LIVES, THEIR IDENTITIES, THEIR FAMILIES, AND THEIR OWN SECURITY. PETER IS NOT BOASTING ABOUT WHAT THEY HAVE GIVEN UP, BUT IS PANICKING OVER THE DIFFICULTY OF OBTAINING ETERNAL LIFE.

NOW JESUS TELLS THEM OF HOW ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE WITH GOD. THOSE WHO FORSAKE THE WORLD, AND ITS TREASURES, FOR THE SAKE OF JESUS AND THE GOOD NEWS HE BRINGS, WILL BE REPAID IN THIS AGE WITH MORE THAN WHAT THEY LEFT BEHIND; NEW BROTHERS AND SISTERS, MOTHERS AND FATHERS, WHOLE NEW FAMILIES IN CHRIST, AND, INDEED, PERSECUTIONS FOR FOLLOWING JESUS. IN THE AGE TO COME, HOWEVER, THEY WILL BE GRANTED LIFE ETERNAL.

JESUS DOES NOT CALL US TO A LIFE OF ASCETICISM, BUT TO A NEW LIFE IN A NEW COMMUNITY WITH ITS OWN BENEFITS. HE REASSURES PETER, AND US, THAT PRIVATION IS NOT THE HALLMARK OF GOD’S KINGDOM, BUT AN AUTHENTIC COMMUNITY OF CARING FOR EACH OTHER; THE SAME KIND OF COMMUNITY HE CALLED THE RICH MAN TO JOIN BY GIVING HIS WEALTH TO THE POOR. THIS KIND OF COMMUNITY, THE LIFE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THIS WORLD, WILL ALWAYS BE AT ODDS WITH THE WAY OF THE WORLD, FOR THE WAY OF THE FOLLOWERS OF THE CHRIST IS DEFINITELY NOT THE WAY OF THE WORLD.

YET THIS COMMUNITY OF CARING IS FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD, SHOWING TO THE WORLD THAT ETERNAL LIFE CAN NOT BE GAINED BY WAY OF THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD, BUT ONLY BY THE LOVE AND GRACE OF GOD IN JESUS. IT IS ONLY BY FAITH, WHICH IS TRUST IN JESUS AS GOD INCARNATE, THAT WE ARE GRANTED ETERNAL LIFE WITH GOD; AND THAT LIFE BEGINS NOW IN THE COMMUNITY OF CARING WHICH WE CALL THE CHURCH. THE CHURCH IS THAT COMMUNITY OF THOSE CALLED OUT OF THE WORLD, WHO HAVE SURRENDERED ALL THAT WE ARE AND ALL THAT WE HAVE TO OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, JESUS. BY LAW WE INHERIT NOTHING; IT IS ONLY IN LOSING IT ALL FOR CHRIST ARE WE GRANTED THE LIFE WITH HIM FOREVER. AMEN