Meditation on Mark 10:17-31
Oct. 14, 2018
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
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?” 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.”
Today, we are blessed with the joy of baptism! We will welcome Annika and Silas into the family of God.
We will pray for the Spirit to come and dwell with them, shape and grow them to become what God has planned for them.
When we baptize, we are urged to remember our own baptisms and be thankful. For Christ has claimed us. We belong to Him and no longer live for ourselves. Paul in Romans 6:4 says, 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. Paul says again in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Our 2018 Book of Common Worship says, “Baptism enacts and seals what the word proclaims. God’s redeeming grace is offered to all people. Baptism is at once God’s gift of grace, God’s means of grace, and God’s call to respond to that grace. Through baptism, Jesus calls us to repentance, faithfulness, and discipleship. Through baptism, the Holy Spirit gives the Church its identity and commissions the Church for service in the world. … When we are baptized, we are made one with Christ, with one another, and with the Church of every time and place. In Christ, barriers of race, status, and gender are overcome; we are called to seek reconciliation in the Church and world, in Jesus’ name.” (p. 404) As Paul in Galatians 3:28 says, ” 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
In baptism, we say “yes” to following Jesus, wherever he may lead us. And we promise to help one another be faithful to Christ’s call. We recommit ourselves to seeking the “newness of life,” made possible by the Spirit of God.
If I were on a desert island and could only choose one gospel to have with me, it wouldn’t be Mark. Other people have shared my view, I discovered in my reading this week.
American Theologian William Placher says that Mark has been the most neglected gospel for most of Christian history. Even Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) “noticed how much of Mark can also be found in Matthew…” so why “consult a truncated copy,” asks Placher, when “the fuller original was available?”
Mark is “an odd text—abrupt, sometimes clumsy, written in Greek totally without literary polish, yet astonishing in its complexity…. Written by an ill-educated author long ago, it has amazing similarities to the work of the some of the most sophisticated storytellers of our time.” (2) It wasn’t until English Deist Thomas Chubb, a man without formal education, in the early 18th century, “proposed that Mark was really the first Gospel to be written” that scholars began to study it more seriously.
Many have come to agree with him and place Mark’s writing between 65 and 75.
Following a radical teaching on marriage, divorce and children, in which Jesus rejects his patriarchal culture that views women and children as men’s property, Mark continues teaching on wealth, discipleship and the kingdom of God in our reading today. Jesus is on a journey when a man runs up to him and kneels before him, asking what seems like a stupid question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” But Jesus doesn’t treat it like a stupid question. He does, however, correct him in calling him, “Good teacher.” When he says, “No one is good but God alone,” he’s not saying he isn’t good; he’s saying, “I’m not just a teacher.” From the first line of Mark’s gospel, we know that Jesus is the Son of God!
Jesus then asks the man about his obedience to the commandments. Is he trying to trick the man? I don’t think so. He is about to refute a traditional Jewish belief that wealth is a sign of divine favor. Moses warns the Israelites in Deut. 28:11-18 to remember that their prosperity comes from God as a reward for obedience to His commands.
Jesus responds to the man by looking at him and loving him. This is a God who knows us intimately! Psalm 139:23-24 says, 23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Then, Jesus tells him he lacks one thing. The problem is his heart.
“Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” he says, “and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”
Jesus speaks a similar message to his disciples in Luke 12:33-34: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Today’s passage in Mark is a call story, much like when Jesus calls to Simon and Andrew, casting a net into the sea in Mark 1:16.
Except this call story doesn’t end the same way. He is “shocked” and goes away “grieving.” Only then do we learn that the would-be disciple “had many possessions.” Jesus’ disciples would also be shocked by the revelation that wealth isn’t a reward from God. “Look, we have left everything and followed you,” Peter begins to say, sounding defensive. Jesus says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” and then, “Children,” he repeats for emphasis, “how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” With his talk of camels and needles, he uses everyday objects—the largest animal and smallest opening–to make his point; it’s not about a camel going through a small gate in Jerusalem, a story that originated in the 9th century.
“Then who can be saved?” his disciples say to one another, confused and perplexed, perhaps afraid of how Jesus might answer if they ask him directly.
Jesus looks at them, like he did at the man with too many possessions, and he says, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible.”
So, how do we respond to today’s gospel? The church over the years has interpreted this scripture in a variety of ways. Union Presbyterian Seminary Professor Lamar Williamson, Jr. says one way is a literal reading, popular in the Early Church, which anticipated Jesus returning at any day to meet them in Galilee. The church in Acts 4:32-35, didn’t sell all their possessions, but they held all things in common, sharing so that no one had a need. The second way is “an ascetic or restrictive” reading, with some Christian groups being led to a life of “radical renunciation of possessions and total dependence on the providence of God.” The third is a “symbolic” or “generalized” reading, common with Protestants. Maybe you have heard this interpretation. Jesus’s command to sell and give everything away was only for that one man, because “his love of and dependence on wealth was his particular impediment to discipleship. For all disciples, however, its spiritual meaning is that we must root out of our lives whatever may hinder our following Jesus…”
I agree that we do need to ask God to remove anything in the way of our wholehearted response to Christ’s call. But the symbolic interpretation doesn’t ring true. For Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” The wealth—and not just love of wealth or money—is a problem because it is not shared with the poor! It is a question of justice and being obedient to God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves. Williamson goes on, “After we have done our best to make this text say something less upsetting to our system of values, Jesus looks intently at us and continues to quietly affirm that life is to be had not by accumulating things, but by disencumbering ourselves. … This text proclaims the good news that the way to be really rich is to die to wealth. If we are not shocked, appalled, grieved, or amazed, we have either not yet heard it or heard it so often that we do not really hear it anymore.” (188)
Jesus is looking at us now with love. What is not possible for mortals is possible for God! He who has claimed us in baptism knows us better than we know ourselves! Is there one thing lacking in us? Do we have hearts to give? How will you respond to Christ’s call?
Let us pray. Holy One, we thank you for claiming us in our baptisms—that we belong to you! Help us, Lord, to understand how we must live according to your Word. Forgive us for never really being content, for always wanting more and coveting what others have. Teach us how to live in this materialistic, selfish-centered culture, and not be like the man with too many possessions who walked away from you, grieved. Empower us by your Spirit to be faithful to your call. Stir us to hold on loosely to our wealth and possessions, realizing that having too much can be a hindrance to walking with you, fearlessly going and doing whatever you lead us to do. Give us hearts to give generously to our needy neighbors, showing our faith and your love. In Christ we pray. Amen.