Mark 10:17-31 “Truth-Telling in Love”
October 14, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell
Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO
Mark 10:17-31 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?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You 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; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, 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.” 22 When 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!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus 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.” 29 Jesus 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, 30 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. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
I wonder about this man – this random guy who, out of nowhere, races up to Jesus and kneels at his feet, interrupting his journey. This kind of movement and interruption is so common. How many of us, at one time or another, have raced up to someone else hoping to catch them just in time before they have to leave? Whether it’s our teacher’s classroom at the end of the day or a government office that’s just about to close or a boss that’s getting ready to be away for a week, there are times in our lives where we are urgently in need of an answer and the someone with the answer is just about head out. Flying by the seat of our pants, we race toward our goal, trying to beat the clock and we…just…make…it…trying to collect our thoughts, maybe even a little out of breath from making the mad dash, and out spills the question. No time for, “Hi, how are you?” Not even an, “Oh, good, you’re still here!” The question just pops out.
And this man’s question is a doozy. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus doesn’t answer his question but simple tells the man that only God is good and then lists some of the Ten Commandments. The man feels confident that he’s lived a good life in good ways which means he has loved God, at least as much as is humanly possible, and hasn’t inflicted himself on his neighbors, at least as little as is humanly possible. In our own ways, these are common thoughts for us. We love God as much as is humanly possible and we inflict ourselves on our neighbors as little as is humanly possible. In an earnest, faith-filled way there is a confidence in living how God asks us to live. How could there not be?
So I read this man as quite sincere. Living a faithful life, doing what he thinks God has asked him to do, the man wants to be even more faithful, more confident that he’s doing all of it. He’s ready to do some serious listening to God so that he can take the next step. The man has done all he knows so he’s asking for more and from where he sits he is a good person and simply wants to be a better one. He has a big, fat “A” on his report card and he’s going for the A+. How many of us long for the same? So he turns to Jesus asking, “What must I do…?”
And, Jesus drops the bomb, a big one, right on the man, “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.”
And the whispers in our minds begin, “…Oh, Jesus is talking to that deluded Jewish man who thinks the commandments are going to save him…no, he must be saying that that man lacks faith and has set his money up as an idol…what Jesus really wants is for the man to have faith and follow him…what’s this business about eternal life anyway…maybe this all means something else other than what it says – the Bible has layers of meaning…this is about the man, not about me…”
Okay, so some of the whispers in our head may or may not have merit. But let’s sit with this. Jesus’ words to the rich man are mind-blowing, “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.” And the man went away – grieving, mind-blown.
Jesus looks around at his disciples and says, “”How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Now the disciples’ minds are blown. They had left everything they had, are following Jesus, and can’t get what he is saying. Jesus says, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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.”
And the whispers in our minds begin again, “…well, Jesus must mean idolatrous wealth and I’m not tied to my money that way…I’m doing what I have to do, this is about being independent…this is about the rich man, not me…what is the kingdom of God anyway…who needs saving…what does saving even mean?”
One of my professors at seminary is a man named Vincent Harding. He is a compatriot of Martin Luther King Jr., occasionally his speech writer, and also his friend. When my fellow students and I talk about Dr. Harding, it has that slightly whispered quality of reverence and maybe a little sigh thrown in for good measure. I was sitting in a class taught by someone else who brought in a few other professors including Dr. Harding. They sat up front, panel-style, and were asked questions – proceeding to answer them in ways that revealed obvious areas of agreement and also exposed the fault lines among them. At one point, Dr. Harding turned to one of his colleagues, spoke his name in his usual quiet way, softness around his solid core, and said, “I’m going to disagree with you in love.”
“I’m going to disagree with you in love.” Who says stuff like that?! Who even stops to think it before they dive into a disagreement?! In v21, “Jesus, looking at [the man], loved him.” Before Jesus says the truly mind-blowing words about wealth, he looks at the man, and loved him. One of the only times the Bible refers to Jesus loving any one particular person and his love is for this man. Jesus loves this man who wants a formula to translate into God saving him just as much as the disciples do. The rich man kept all the commandments and the disciples dropped everything in their lives to follow Jesus. And it is into this desire, the desire for saving, the desire to be good enough for God, to do enough for God, that Jesus says, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
The reading from Hebrews says, “…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.” This is a promise. This is a promise because, like the rich man, our whole selves are known – the success, the stress and the shame – all of it, all of us, are known. Like the rich man, our whole selves are loved – the success, the stress and the shame – all of it, all of us, are loved.
And, like the rich man, Jesus works to set us free from the energy conserving concern for ourselves to the energy unleashing concern for our neighbor. Those commandments that kept the rich man and keep us so busy are merely protective. They protect our neighbor from us. “Thou shalt NOT…” Right? They do not take us the extra step toward our neighbor. Jesus does. Jesus stands between us and our neighbor and tells us that God is good, God is the One and that these commandments have merit on behalf of our neighbor but no merit on behalf of ourselves.
And Jesus disagrees with us in love. He right-sizes us into our mortal, human bodies, reassuring us that our soul-saving shenanigans are impossible for us but totally possible for God. Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” This last and first business is only possible in the shape of a circle where the first and last form together so that it is impossible to see who is first and last because we’re all in it together.
So this morning, we are wrapped together in a circle of truth-telling in love. We are pulled together around a table. On this table is bread and wine – perishable, fragile things that make incredible things happen. Incredible things like the love that shows up in forgiveness for you, in you and through you. Forgiveness in love from the One who pours himself out from a cross through you as a sure and everlasting hope for His sake, for your sake and for the sake of the world.