Meditation on Mark 10:17-27
Pastor Karen Crawford
Oct. 10, 2021
Link to live streamed service with message:
I’ve been unhappy with my furniture lately. I find myself admiring the furniture in other people’s homes and feeling dissatisfied with mine. That ever happen to you? Jim and I have had conversations about his big, green, leather recliner. Sure, it’s comfortable. I’ll give him that.
But it doesn’t go with any of our other furniture or the dark brown carpeting. And it’s well- worn from years of use. The leather is cracking on the seat. Every time we move, I tell him, “We’re not going to bring the green chair.”
He gets a kind of pained expression on his face. “Do you know how much they cost?” he always asks me. Next thing you know, we are moving the green chair.
And I am admiring other people’s furniture, again… Wishing for more…
We encounter a man in the gospel of Mark today who is eager to meet Jesus and find answers to his questions. I confess that this passage convicts me, for his one problem is, shall I say, close to home. He has too many possessions! Too much stuff and he likes it too much.
The passage begins with Jesus and his disciples starting out on a journey.
We learn in verse 32 that he’s on his way to Jerusalem. What awaits Jesus in the Holy City? The cross— and the work of God for “us and our salvation,” as we say in the Nicene Creed.
This encounter with a man anxious to talk with Jesus is an interruption on their way to their destination. Jesus not only allows the interruption, he uses it as a teaching moment for his disciples—and for his followers, in every generation!
Isn’t that how ministry often happens? As an interruption to what WE have planned to do.
Isn’t it curious that the disciples don’t stop the man from approaching Jesus? After all, they just tried to shoo away mothers bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing. Have they learned their lesson about who is important in the kingdom of God? No, they haven’t. They let this man approach Jesus and join them because he is rich! With great wealth comes status in Jesus’ society, much like It does in ours today.
Now this man of many possessions IS trying to be faithful. He isn’t a Pharisee trying to trick Jesus into saying something that will get him arrested. He has come to Jesus for answers to his burning question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That word “inherit” catches my attention. What do we have to do to inherit something? Nothing. We receive inheritance when a close relative dies.
Jesus lets that comment go by. He corrects his address of “Good Teacher” –for nobody is “good” but God, and then lists some of the commandments for the man to follow. “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.” As the apostle Paul will say in his letter to the Romans, the sum of the 10 Commandments is LOVE.
The man who interrupts Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem eagerly tells Jesus, “I have kept all these commands since my youth!!!!” He is expecting Jesus to say, “Good job! Yes, you have done everything to inherit eternal life.”
Instead, Jesus says, “You LACK one thing.” Listen to HOW the Lord speaks to him. In verse 21, he looks at him and loves him before he speaks the hard truth.For the “one” thing the man lacks, Jesus gives a multi-step solution:
- go, sell what you own
- give the money to the poor,
- you will have treasure in heaven;
- then come, follow me.
In case we think this is one obscure saying of Jesus in Mark, we find similar instructions in Matthew 19:21: “Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” And in Luke 12:33: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.”
How does the rich man respond to Christ’s invitation? He goes away from Jesus “shocked” and “grieved” because of his many possessions—and the mistaken belief that wealth and prosperity are the Lord’s rewards for our faithfulness. Therefore, if you are poor or sick, it must be because you or your parents have sinned.
This is the choice Christ has laid before him: He can have:
a: the wealth and status of his life in this world OR
b: treasure in heaven
We are left wondering if the man has been changed by his meeting Christ, in spite of his departure in grief and shock. How can we not be affected by Christ’s loving gaze and invitation to follow him?
We don’t have to wonder how the disciples respond to Christ’s teaching. They are “perplexed” when he says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” They are “greatly astounded” when he says, again for emphasis, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” and adds, “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.”
The disciples ask one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus overhears—or knows the question in their hearts. He looks at them with love, just as he looked at the man with many possessions. “For mortals it is impossible,” he says, “but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
Peter speaks up for the group after that, declaring, “Lord, we have left everything and followed you!” He is still missing the point. “We have done what you asked,” he is saying. “Haven’t we done enough to be saved?
Friends, we can learn much from this passage. First, we should never allow wealth or possessions take the place of God in our lives. Stuff isn’t going to make us happier. When we get more stuff, we just want more. I speak from experience. What’s the point of new furniture when you have cats with claws? You end up having to cover it to protect it!
We have heard Jesus say in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” But there’s more to this passage than a caution against collecting possessions and loving money. The Lord wants us to hear, once again, that second instruction—after Jesus tells the man to sell his possessions– give to the poor. The Lord is concerned for our needy neighbors and wants us to be concerned, too. This is part of answering Christ’s call!
There’s even more to be learned from today’s gospel lesson. The main message of the passage, I believe, and indeed the whole of the gospel is about our Creator’s love and grace. Human beings don’t understand God’s grace! We struggle to forgive ourselves and one another, so we assume God is struggling to forgive us, too. But God isn’t keeping record of our failures or holding them against us.
And human beings don’t understand God’s unconditional love. Why? Because we don’t love that way and we don’t often see unconditional love in this world. Listen. You need to hear this. As Philip Yancy has written, “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”
Brothers and sisters, there’s also nothing we can do to add to Christ’s work on the cross for our salvation. All of us are sinners; none of us could save ourselves, even the earliest disciples who “left everything to follow Jesus.”
For mortals, it is impossible. But not for God. For God, all things are possible!
Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for Jesus, who shows and tells us how to love you and our neighbors, even those who might be hard to love. Forgive us, Lord, for our obsession with possessions. Remove our desire for more things that never satisfy us. Stir us to care for the poor as you do— to share ourselves, our friendship, and our resources with those in need. And Lord, help us to understand, accept, and receive your love, mercy and grace. Assure us that you have done everything needed for us and our salvation through the sacrifice of your perfect Son, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord. In His name we pray. Amen.