20 Pentecost—Proper 23-B
October 11, 2015
Job 23:1-9, 16-17, Psalm 22:1-15, Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31
He keeps the commandments since childhood. He doesn’t murder, steal, commit adultery, defraud anyone, or dishonor his parents. And now he comes to Jesus, not slowly, with dignity and composure, but running, in humility and in need, and he throws himself down at Jesus’ feet. He is hungry for this thing called eternal life, which—let me keep saying—is not another way of saying going to heaven when he dies, but a way of saying having the peace, joy, and purpose of heaven, starting here and now on earth, and in the age to come. He is desperate for this, so clearly he is suffering, for who comes to Jesus that isn’t suffering? When we’re full of ourselves, fat, dumb, and happy, we feel no need for anyone’s help.
No, this man is hurting, so he asks Jesus: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Maybe part of him secretly expects to hear Jesus say, “Well done good and faithful servant”. If Jesus blesses his lifestyle, then he can finally relax.
I read a little book the other day, written by a Baptist blogger and pastor in Georgia with the great title of: Stop Trying to Fix Yourself: Learn to Rest in the Overcoming Power of the Spirit, by Eddie Snipes
But Jesus is not going to bless his lifestyle because, we are told, Jesus “looking at him loved him.” This is the only place in Mark’s Gospel where it says Jesus loves a particular person. This is not, “oh yeah, I love the whole human race”, this is “desperate man on your knees looking for peace, I love YOU!”
I love you!
How unnerving this is! To be pierced through with the look of love—not the sentimental love we have for puppies and kittens on You-Tube—no, this is the love of the Creator of Heaven and Earth, his creator, in flesh and blood—his heavenly father, loving him straight through the Son.
Who can bear this love?
This man has fallen into love. Not fallen in love like we do in the first stage of romance, but fallen into love, the love of Jesus that is a vast ocean of infinite depth. It is above, beneath, all around him. Fallen into Love—baptized, immersed in Love. That which he has been searching for his entire life is upon him.
But when he sees it on the face of Jesus and hears it in his voice, he walks away, because he is not yet ready to let go of the other love in his life–his possessions.
So he goes away grieving. This is instructive—he doesn’t go away in self-righteous anger—“How dare that pompous hick tell me to sell my possessions, give to the poor, and follow him! I’m an important man with big responsibilities, I can’t just up and leave all those who depend on me. Who does he think he is, talking to ME that way?”
I was a newly minted priest when I heard for the first time the call to let go of my possessions and start viewing everything I have as belonging to God, and giving 10% of that to Christ’s work in the church, and when I heard it, I was furious, and stormed out of the meeting.
But this man goes away grieving, torn between two lovers, knowing he can’t embrace both at the same time, or as Jesus says in another place, “You can’t serve God and money.”
He loves them both—but the first and the most important of the Ten Commandments says: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods but Me.”
Not for God’s sake, but for our sake. Everything gets out of joint when we are out of joint with the One in whom “we live and move and have our being.”
This man has fallen into Love, and his heart will be restless until that suits him.
But I am hopeful for this rich man, this member of the 1%. In the contest between his possessions and the Love of the Triune God visible in Jesus there is no contest. His experience is already showing him that his possessions cannot give him the peace and purpose he knows he is made for. I believe, like Nicodemus who also came to Jesus looking for eternal life, this Love will bring him back to Christ, where he will find peace and joy.
Maybe before the cross or after, but I believe love wins, because God’s love which is not a feeling, but the act of God’s self-giving that never rests nor gives up, even when it involves death on a cross. He can walk away from Jesus, but he cannot make Jesus stop loving him, ever.
One day as he looks deeply into his suffering enough he will realize that he doesn’t possess his stuff but that his stuff possesses him: it possesses him by filling him with the anxiety that he doesn’t have enough, and with the fear of losing it and the drive to make more. It possesses him by cutting him off from his neighbor disguised as the beggar in the street or the poor in all places. It possesses him by keeping him away from finding his true identity in God.
Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapid, Michigan and author of wonderful books like Velvet Elvis, and Love Wins, says when we are possessed by our possessions it is like “trying to play the piano while wearing oven mitts…or “Right now, we’re trying to embrace our lover, but we’re wearing a hazmat suit….We’re trying to taste the thirty-two different spices in the curry, but our mouth is filled with gravel.” Love Wins page 61
I believe one day he will decide he’s had enough of the suffering caused by the illusion that his money can save him and he will run back to Jesus again so he can gladly swim in the Sea of Love.
Martin Luther said that “People go through three conversions: their head, their heart and their pocketbook. Unfortunately, not all at the same time.”
Somebody said that “When a person becomes rich, either God gains a partner, or the person loses a soul.”
Jesus says, “Wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Every time we give our pledge to the church, whether weekly or monthly, we are practicing putting head, heart, and money together in service to the Love that sustains us.
Two weeks ago I quoted the Pope, here let me quote Billy Graham:
He says, “A checkbook is a theological document; it will tell you who and what you worship….[but] If a person gets his attitude toward money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area in his life.” http://www.brethren.org/stewardship/documents/stewardship-quotes.pdf
Peter says, Lord we left everything for you…what about us:
Jesus responds: “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, who 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.”
In other words, as we practice week by week letting go of our death grip on our money we receive the abundance of God’s community.
And yes, it feels impossible, but Jesus says, with God all things are
possible. And with that kind of divine love, we can believe it.