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Pentecost 20B Sermon
Mark
10: 17-31
October 10, 2021


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Mark 10:17-31

17 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?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You 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; Honour your father and mother.” ’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, 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.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
28 Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ 29Jesus said, ‘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, 30who 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. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Oh my goodness, Jesus! Really? After last week’s reading from the first part of Mark 10, where you pretty much condemned nearly half of your audience for being divorced and re-married, now you say that the only way that a person can guarantee eternal life for him or herself is to sell all they have and give the proceeds away to the poor? That is ludicrous! How are we supposed to live? How are we supposed to plan for our future financial security? How do you expect us to grow the church if we hear quotes like this in our worship services? If I would have interrupted the entertainment last night at that wonderful party on our parking lot and said, “Stop the Music …Okay people, I hope you are enjoying yourselves, but the only way that you have eternal life is if you take all of your possessions, sell them, and give the proceeds to the poor; start the music! Well, we might have had a mass-exodus from our celebratory proceedings! That would be a great way to dampen a 100th Anniversary!

We get really nervous and upset when Jesus says things like this. It appears that he uses exaggeration and extreme examples to capture the attention of the crowds that gather around him. It happened last week - when he said that anyone who divorces their spouse and marries another commits adultery! That was hard to listen to, especially if you or someone you know and love are divorced from an abusive spouse or an unhealthy marriage, and now are in a wonderful, healthy and happy relationship. But to hear Jesus tell this man who is obviously rich since we are told that he has a lot of possessions and cannot envision himself without them, that he needs to unburden himself of all of it, and give his money to the poor? That really challenges us! We may be like the man who sees himself as a follower of the law - we try to do our best in order to be faithful followers of Jesus, and we wonder what it all means for our salvation. But Jesus goes a step further and says that not only are we to try our best to follow God’s commandments, but we are to sell all that we own to give our money to the poor. That is not required in any Mosaic law or commandment of the Old Testament! Where does Jesus get this stuff?

Jesus is certainly being radical here. Now when we hear that word, “radical” we often think of someone who is on the extreme edges of society or of our community, kind of the opposite of moderate. As a matter of fact, the word radical has adopted a rather restrictive meaning. In some cases, it has come to designate a lack of realistic vision or a counterproductive approach in politics. It is more and more commonplace to hear the word “radical” used to discredit political opponents for their uncompromising stances. “The radical left,” or “the radical right,” are expressions meant to smear political, theological or cultural understandings to equate them with extremism and bias.

But in its origin, radical doesn’t mean this at all, and we have allowed these cultural wars to pervert what it really means. Radical comes from the Latin word “radix” which refers to the root of a plant, a problem, or the grounding assumptions of an argument. As we consider this teaching of Jesus - and Jesus himself - as being “radical” we must say that it gets to the root of the essence of being a Christian and belonging to a Christian community. Indeed, things like our most intimate relationships and our possessions and use of wealth are two parts of life that are at the root of Christian discipleship. We guard these as private matters, to be sure, but even though they are private, they are vitally important nonetheless, because they get to the root of what is most important in our lives.

Probably the reason that we initially call this passage radical is how extremely different a life it portrays from our own lives. We would probably call it counter-cultural. Private ownership and free enterprise are values that we guard closely in our society, and (like this man) we just cannot picture life without them. To be sure, I do believe that Jesus is using exaggeration to get the man’s attention - as well as ours! I do not think that we are called to literally sell everything that we own and give away all of the proceeds to the needy. If all Christians in this city, let alone this world, did this, there would be an unimaginable result of generous sharing of wealth with all. And I truly believe that whatever comes after this life will include a leveling of accounts where, as Mary sings in the Magnificat, the rich are brought down, and the poor lifted up. The rich are still loved and saved as are the poor, but the leveling of life will be something different to both groups - to all of us, really, as we live into a reality of perfect peace and healing without the threat of illness, bankruptcy, crime, war, famine and even death hanging over our heads. We don’t know what that eternal life will exactly look like, but we do know it will be totally different and totally joy-filled.

So what does it mean for this life if we are not literally required to sell all that we have and give it to the poor? Well, first of all it means that we should stop focusing on how WE might be responsible for our own eternal life. This man made the connection that the law and his following of the law were connected to getting God to love him forever. That is impossible. None of us has that kind of power. It would be as possible for us to have that kind of power as it would for a full-grown, one-ton camel to fit through the eye of a sewing needle. I don’t do it much, but it seems to me that the first challenge of sewing is to put that tiny thread through the eye of that needle … I can’t imagine such a huge beast fitting through! It cannot happen, and we shouldn’t try to justify Jesus’ teaching by pointing out that there may or may not have been a hole in the wall of ancient Jerusalem called, “The Eye of the Needle” where you had to unload all of your belongings off the camel and squeeze it through before loading it back up on the other side. This is one point where Jesus IS being literal! This is literally impossible … because selling all that we own and giving it to the poor is impossible … because earning your own eternal life is, yes you guessed it, impossible.
And secondly, before we despair, fear not. The wonderful, good news that is the punchline to this whole story is, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God, all things are possible.” That’s right, in Jesus God has done the impossible - taken the proverbial camel through the needle’s eye and redeemed sinners like you and me who cannot imagine life without our possessions or those things that we do that are not healthy for our relationships or for our community. In Jesus, God has gotten radical - God has gotten to the root of life by taking the burden of eternal life out of our hands and freeing us up to see our possessions as blessings from God to be shared and used to help others know what Jesus has done for them.

So let us not focus on the impossible task of earning God’s eternal love by following the law as perfectly as we can, always wondering if we are doing enough. Jesus has already given us that gift of salvation. Let us focus on the root of our Christian life - using the blessings, the innumerable blessings that God has showered on us as gratefully, and lovingly as God did when we were entrusted with them. Be radicals in a world that would rather we quietly blend in and keep our faith and our possessions to ourselves! Amen!