A Reflection on Mark 10:17-31
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Money, money, money, money, money: Jesus never had any in his pockets but he knew what would happen to our hearts if we kept our hands clutched too tightly around ours.
Money — whether you earn it legally or on the streets, whether it comes from selling cocaine or selling needed medical supplies, if it becomes our reason for existence, or the center of our identity, its hold on us will lead us to the same place: a peace filled with grief, with anger, with anxiety, and with a hollow loneliness that defies satisfaction.
So take it out this morning. Take it out – your money that is – so that in this light you can see what it means to you, what it does to you, for or against you. That’s right, I invite you to reach into you wallets or your purses and take out your money, your cold hard cash, and hold it in your hands. And if you see anyone around you who doesn’t have any cash on them today, give them a bill or two of yours so they can feel it between their fingers.
No matter how much we have of this stuff the world has taught us, and taught us well, that it’s okay to want more. Can’t live without it in this world, unless you’re God, of course. For just as he alone is good, he alone needs neither income nor bank account to survive. But then again, He doesn’t survive when he’s betrayed for thirty silver coins. So look again at your money.
Jesus is setting out on a journey, the journey that will lead to the cross, and a man asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus, who in the Father’s love has his direction set to give eternal life, is stopped by a man who wants to know what he can do to get it. The man has lived an honorable life in the sight of his neighbors, for he’s not afraid to tell the living God that he has obeyed the commandments that protect our relationships with one another, and he’s obviously well-dressed enough for Jesus to see that he is a man of means. And the man knows something about the laws of inheritance, so if he hasn’t already received an earthly inheritance, he’s doing all that he can to earn the good graces of the one who will bestow it. But while all the laws of this world that he has obeyed are worth obeying for the sake of his neighbor, they cannot give him what can neither be bought nor earned. For what God gives freely as a gift is worth more than anything any of us could ever do.
“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.” You can be obedient to all the laws of the land, you can earn your money honestly and with integrity, but if you think that there is something that you alone can do to earn eternal life, well then, you’re in for quite a surprise.
“Sell all that you own and give it to the poor,” Jesus tells our inquisitive man. Empty yourself so that once and for all you’ll know that you are dependent upon God for everything. Everything? Everything! My guess is that the man had already filled a row of those storage units that dot the frontage roads of the highways of the land…and everything was a lot of things: Maybe things he didn’t even use but kept for security; maybe things he didn’t even like but was enamored by their monetary value.
But if the man had done what Jesus had told him to do in love, he would have discovered the joy of eternal life. He would have tasted the freedom of eternal goodness. He would be filled with the love that comes from the only one who is truly good, God himself.
Giving his money to the poor would indeed help the poor, and as important as it is to care deeply for those with material needs, Jesus commands the man to give because he loves the man, and he knows that this man cannot celebrate the inheritance of grace until he stops holding on so tightly to the money in his hands…because when we’re holding on so tightly to what we think is ours, our hands are not open to receive all that God has to give us.
Sometimes we have to give our material things to those who cannot survive without such help and by such giving we receive more than we ever imagined, for when we live our lives fully dependent upon God, truly believing that all that we have is a gift, we discover that we are God’s material gift – his life in ours – his life given for ours – and our lives—his sacramental material, through which His mercy flows to the whole world: brothers and sisters, mothers and children without end.
Sell all that you have and give it the poor. Jesus is not trying to make the man feel guilty for his possessions, for that would be a fruitless task. Jesus, who looks on this man in love, wants the man to receive the love and to live the love – for the sheer joy of it, just as a child receives the sunrise of a new day, and cannot wait to play.
But the man just wasn’t quite ready that day and held on to his grief (to be healed, we pray, at a later time). So Jesus uses the event of that day to teach his disciples. I imagine he would have used a different example with us, since none of us have parked our camels in the church (parking) lot. He would have talked about something else that would have appeared to been impossible, ludicrous, even absurd. He might have said that it would be easier for family of four with a three-bedroom home, five televisions, three computers, a dining room set, a pool table, closets full of clothes, and brand new stainless steel appliances to get everything they own into one suitcase than it is for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.
If Jesus said that to you, you’d be astounded and you might really wonder, “Well, who then can be saved?” You might believe at last, that you couldn’t do the saving – but that God will do it for you. Indeed, he already has.
So look at your money again…and I invite you to do something that is as shocking as the words of Jesus were to that rich man. When it comes time for the offering today, put it all in. All? All! Did you already write a check? Do you already have your envelope set to go? Put that in, too. This is on top of that. This is your chance to come to the table fully dependent upon him for your life, for every breath. Some of you may have more money in the bank and may be able to access it later this day, and some of you may not. I hope you’ll look down the pew and invite someone for a meal if you can, receive your brothers and sisters, mothers and children, a hundredfold and yet again.
But mostly I want you all to know in your bodies, that everything, everything is a gift from God. I want you know the joy of the kingdom. I pray for you to let go of your grief, your anxiety, your fears, your desperate need to be in control, and to at last taste the treasures of heaven which will sustain you until the fullness of eternal life is yours.
May you live each day trusting in your Saviour’s mercy.
May you love your neighbor in the joy with which your Lord loves you.
And when you receive his very body in yours today, May your thanks for all that he has done never end. Amen
The Rev. Dr. Amy C. Schifrin serves as pastor of Mission in Christ and Faith Lutheran Churches in the Iowa Mission District of the North American Lutheran Church.