The word of God both calls us to act and reminds us that we are enough. This is the tension in which we live, called into something new and scary and not yet knowing or understanding how to make it a reality. This is where God’s grace is found.
Vicar Anna Helgen
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 28, year B
text: Mark 10:17-31
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
If Jesus were to walk through the doors here at Mount Olive, can you imagine yourself running up to him, kneeling at his feet, and saying, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” I can. Because I wonder about these things. Like you, I try to be a good person, to do the right thing by loving others, and to ensure that my future is in God’s hands. But I worry about what I’m forgetting, what I’m missing, and where my ignorance has gotten the best of me. We want to know that our relationship and life with God is promised both here and now and in the life to come. So this question of eternal life matters! As does Jesus’ answer.
In this brief interaction, we get a sense that this man trusts Jesus enough to enter into this dialogue. He’s led a faithful life and kept the commandments, and yet he wonders what is missing. “You lack one thing,” Jesus says. “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
Those words are hard to hear: You’re too focused on yourself and your own accumulation of things. It’s time for a change! Opportunities for relationship abound and you’re missing them!
We can relate. We too have many possessions–in comparison to the rest of the world–and it’s easy for us to get caught up in our own lives, in our own worries, concerns, and ideologies. We feel anxious about entering this future that God calls us to because it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to sell all our things and give the money to the poor. But is that all this passage is about? Does Jesus simply ask us to cash out our IRAs and piggy banks, empty our homes of our belongings, and then follow him?
Hebrews provides some help here. “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The words of Jesus cut deep. They have this wonderful ability to expose us and help us see who we truly are. To feel our brokenness and vulnerability. To uncover our fears. And also to help us imagine a new reality that comes into being as we live into our relationship with God and with others.
On the one hand, these words from Jesus convict us. In order to be in relationship with Jesus, to follow him and have eternal life, we need to change the way we handle our wealth. “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” “It 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.”
This is a call to act! But I’m not sure I can do what Jesus asks of me nor am I sure I want to. I like my things. My canoe. My car. A home to call my own. My dad taught me to save money for the future, and now I’m being asked to give it all away? That is scary. What if I can’t do it? Am I a bad person? Will Jesus still love me? Will there still be room for me in God’s kingdom? This man, no doubt, has these same questions. Jesus’ words pierce his soul and leave him feeling uncertain and sad. If this is required of us, then we all fall short.
On the other hand, these words from Jesus come from a place of love. Did you catch that detail? Before Jesus says these words, he looks down at the man who kneels before him, sees his truth, and loves him, just as he is. After all, he knows a few things about what it’s like to live in this world. To give up what makes us comfortable, what secures our future, and what makes life easy. It is out of love that Jesus provides words of guidance that will help this man to be better. Advice that will help him along the way. Like a good teacher, Jesus doesn’t trick, shame, or belittle this man. Instead, he helps him to imagine a new way of living in the world.
So what are we to do? The word of God both calls us to act and reminds us that we are enough. I find this tension remarkable. And I love that we aren’t sure what happens with this man, who lives within this very tension. Does he go away grieving because he is too tied to his stuff and cannot give up his own abundance? Or is he grieving because he realizes that in order to embark on this new adventure, he will need to leave his old life behind. We don’t know.
I find great comfort and hope in this because it’s often where I find myself: in the uncertainty. Standing on the edge of change, with one foot in the past and one in the future. Being called into something new and scary and not yet knowing or understanding how to make it a reality. This is where God’s grace is found.
We don’t know what this man decides to do, but we know that Jesus gives him the freedom to make his own decision in his own time. To take the first step. To take a chance, a risk. God gives us freedom to listen for the Spirit to speak in our lives and move our hearts to action. And all the while, we are loved, just as we are.
The thought of having to change is scary because it means stepping out from the easy and comfortable and into the unknown. But when we take that first step, we realize that this is where there is meaning. Where we find life, hope, and grace. We notice the person at the highway entrance ramp and instead of quickly passing by, we open our wallet, exchange a sign of peace, and smile. We give a little more to the young woman who rings the doorbell raising money to save the honeybees. We remember to fill up bags for the epilepsy foundation and leave them at the doorstep. We give up our need to be better than another. We share our hearts.
Perhaps this man asked the wrong question when he ran up to Jesus. There is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life because an inheritance is something that is given. Our present and future life with God belongs to us now. And we, like this man, are already on the road with Jesus. We can approach him at any time. As we follow him and learn to live into this future that God calls us to, it becomes clear that Jesus invites us to be generous. Not because we have to in order to be in relationship or to secure our eternal destiny, but because it is better for us. It is life-giving.
By sharing our abundance, we learn to trust God and live like we believe God’s promises. We enter into relationships with people different than us. We find new opportunities to give and serve. We see all God’s people as worthy and in need of love and care. In the topsy turvy upside-down world of the gospel, to live fully in God’s kingdom we are called to share in the struggles with our neighbors, where the first are last and the last are first, where all are welcomed, valued, and loved. And, in all our attempts, in our successes and failures, in our certainty and doubt, God walks with us, leads us, and loves us. Just as we are.