a Homily for Proper 22B
Text: Mark 10:17-31
Jesus and Money
Following Jesus is hard. He told the disciples so when He recruited them. He told them that they would have to leave their families and their homes and their work and they went along with it. When He showed them what it would be like to return home, they saw anger and outrage. There He outlined it specifically. You may have to leave everyone. Everyone. To follow me. We hear that same thing again in this story. Following Jesus is hard.
We know this, and yet we hear His commands and we say, well now wait a minute. He doesn’t actually mean we cut ourselves off from everyone, does He? That doesn’t sound like love to me!
That’s where we’re at when this story starts: another tough question about what Jesus is really after. This time, from a more sympathetic figure. A good guy. A relatable sort of guy. He does what he’s supposed to do. He’s just looking for a little help.
And when he enters the scene, we see ourselves in him. He’s pious, good. He works hard at keeping those commandments. He just wants to know the score. He wants assurance that he’s on the right track. So he goes to find the holiest man he can find—someone with a direct connection with GOD, so to speak. So he finds Jesus and he asks Him:
MAN: Am I good with GOD?
JESUS: Do you keep the commandments?
MAN: I always have!
JESUS: Then there’s only one teensy weensy thing you have to do. Sell your stuff, give the money to the poor, and follow me.
MAN: Well! Look at the time! Gotta go!
We have to totally sympathize with this man. He’s looking for a little assurance and we think Jesus is in the business of assuring us of our salvation. “Are you saved?” many of us ask one another. We certainly want assurance of what happens to us in death. So the man’s question is a natural one, if not alien to what Jesus is trying to communicate.
Jesus Makes Christians Squirm
Let’s be honest, though. This is the sort of gospel story that makes many Christians squirm. Jesus condemns wealth, sends that poor rich guy off in tears because He asks Him to sell all his land and property. So we, who are sitting here wondering how we’ll get our fat butts through the eye of that needle are left in two camps: the rich and the less rich. So the rich are squirming in their pews right now saying to themselves, well Jesus doesn’t want me to sell my stuff, I mean, really, um…I’m a good person! I give to my church! While the less rich say Ha! Jesus hates those people! Good thing I’m not rich!
Neither of these squares with the statistics we’ve all heard: that more than 50% of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day. That virtually every person in this room is wealthier than more than 90% of the world. Probably richer than 97%.
So if GOD is the creator of the whole world, Jesus is the savior of the whole world, and the Spirit is the reconciler of the whole world, then Jesus is asking us to look in the mirror about our wealth, about our comfort, and about what we are doing to the rest of the world. Nobody said following Jesus would be easy. He told us it would be hard.
What Good Really Looks Like
This gospel story is about way more than money and poverty. The clue happens right at the beginning with that man on the look out for a holy man. He tries to butter Jesus up by addressing Him as “Good Teacher”. Now we may take Jesus’s response as curious, but it tells us where Jesus’s mind is. Jesus replies by saying “No one is good but GOD alone.” Only GOD is good. I’m not. You’re not. These idiots behind me are not.
We, just like this pious young man think that being good is enough. Following the rules is enough. Just doing what we’re told is enough. Being nice is enough. But Jesus tells us we aren’t good. Not good like GOD is anyway. Because among those rules we follow are rules that condemn much of the world to poverty and a good chunk to extreme poverty. For a week’s worth of bombs the US alone could feed every hungry mouth this year.
And yet Jesus loves this naïve man who comes looking for assurance of his personal salvation as much as He loves us for coming to Him with our petty first world concerns. He signals in the midst of the diatribe against wealth that He doesn’t hate wealth except that it is a stumbling block to our relationship with GOD and one another. It was just a few verses ago that Jesus argued
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell.
Then He told us to cut off a foot and pluck out an eye if they make us to push another person down. See, the problem for the young man isn’t his money, but where it came from and what he plans to do with it. He made it by exploiting workers on his land and subjecting them to poverty without a fair wage. Then when invited to give it back he flees in tears, convicted.
Jesus knows the man hasn’t followed all of GOD’s rules. That has to be why, when hearing the man claim he has, the text says:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing;”
Jesus gives the man a way out. He says give it all up, give it to those who need it, and come follow me. Jesus offers us the same opportunity to eliminate what separates us from GOD and one another. A Way to let go of our sin and get right with GOD. A Way to better know how to love GOD and our neighbor. That it isn’t through following The Law like the Pharisees or being pious like a landowner. But it is in giving up our place in this world and following Jesus where He’s going.
As I was rewriting this sermon last night, I went into the other office and discovered this sitting on the desk. Carol must have brought it in from the mailbox. It is the “Gifts for Life” catalog put out by Episcopal Relief and Development. Now, about 15-30 minutes earlier, I had gone to the ERD website to look up the current information and request a catalog. So finding this catalog sitting right there is kismet, a synchronicity, a moment in which the Spirit surprises us. I knew I was on the right track.
I’m inviting us to do something different for Christmas this year. We’ll give out our baskets. We’ll do what we normally do. But we’re going to add one more thing. We’ll start by buying mosquito nets. For $12, we can provide one mosquito net and training on how to use it. This one action will save a life next year because malaria and other insect-born diseases kill a child every minute. We have the power to save a life.
This is what it means to follow Jesus. To give up our lives, our families, and our wealth. To give to the poor. Because we are that man and we are given that same choice. To love the least more than we love our stuff. Yes, it is hard. And no, we don’t feel rich. Neither does the man in the story. Today, we are not going to run away from Jesus. We are going to follow.
- Heaven Insurance (Eating Scripture) (drewdowns.net)