Gospel: Mark 10:17-31
17As [Jesus] 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?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You 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.’ ” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, 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.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It 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.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus 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, 30who 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. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you ever found yourself overthinking something? There are times when it’s like my brain tries to figure out things for which the answers might be unavailable to us—like today’s question. The guy comes up to Jesus and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
I understand why people might ask that question. I understand why they might ask that question of Jesus… then I read Jesus’ answer. The guy’s asking about eternal life, and the first thing Jesus does in responding is to get on him about how he’s been addressed? And it wasn’t even a disparaging address, the man called him good! The way Jesus responds makes it sound like there’s something wrong with that!
Then my little brain tries to fix everything neat and tidy by saying, “Well, Jesus’ answer is actually a way that he acknowledges that he is God. Stating that no one is good but God alone makes the guy addressing Jesus as good actually into a proclamation that Jesus is God…” Like I said, overthinking. I don’t know what Jesus was trying to do when he delays to answer the question the guy actually asked by responding first to the adjective the guy had used in addressing him.
Or maybe that was the point. Maybe Jesus was delaying in order to determine better what might be the best way to answer the question—both for the guy, and for all the other people listening in…
Then Jesus answers in a way that I believe all the Pharisees would have approved. Jesus says, “You know the commandments,” and then he recites several of them that have to do with relationships of people within community.
It sounds almost like the guy interrupts Jesus as he says something like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve kept all these from my youth. Anyone can do that!”
I think we’re often right there with that young man up to this point of the story. We, too, want to ensure our entry into eternal life. We, too, mostly believe we’ve kept the commandments well enough. We don’t murder or steal, lie or cheat. We don’t engage in fraud, and we honor our parents. Jesus hadn’t mentioned keeping the Sabbath or having other gods or even the one about cursing and swearing, so most of us might feel pretty good about the story so far.
Of course, we’re Lutheran, and we’ve been taught that the commandments are much more than they seem at first glance. We realize that we can break the commandment against murder with other kinds of hurts that don’t result in the loss of an entire life, or even by refusing to help someone. We know that honoring parents is more than hoping they don’t find out what we do when they’re not looking. Still, though, we’re not particularly wracked by guilt as we consider the commandments. We certainly believe ourselves better than those we read or hear about on the news.
Then the story continues. Jesus looks at the man who claims to have kept the commandments. Our story says Jesus loves him. Then Jesus says that something is missing. He tells the man to sell what he owns, give the money to the poor, and then to come and follow him.
The story says that the man went away grieving, because he had many possessions. It does not say whether the man actually sold everything and gave to the poor or not, because the gospel isn’t really about him, it’s about Jesus.
Jesus goes on to say how hard it is for wealthy people to enter the kingdom of God. He talks about huge camels going through tiny little passageways and it just doesn’t seem possible…
Back to the question. “Good Teacher, what must I do?” I must confess that I cringe when I read that Jesus answers with the commandments, because I know how poorly we keep them, and I’m pretty sure no one would obtain eternal life if that’s what it took. Then I wonder if Jesus was hoping that the guy would recognize his failures in keeping those commandments… but he didn’t.
But when Jesus points out the lack, when Jesus points to the man’s wealth, and instructs him to give to the poor, maybe the guy realizes that his very possessions are evidence that he has not kept the commandments as well as he’d believed. Maybe he bought one of those—whatevers—instead of spending time with his elderly mother or father. Maybe he’d stolen with fraudulent business practices that undercut the market. Maybe he’d sought intimacy with someone bound to another, and lied about it. Maybe he’d killed a little of sommeon’s soul by bullying his way forward in community.
“Good Teacher, what must I do?”
Why didn’t Jesus tell him that it’s not what that guy would do that would earn him eternal life, that Jesus himself was responsible for that?
Maybe it’s because Jesus was actually answering a different question. Jesus does not talk about eternal life in his answers. Jesus talks about the kingdom of God—and guess what: The kingdom of God isn’t limited to what happens and where we go after we die.
Did the man realize that he would be living in the kingdom of God as he shared his wealth with the poor and needy? Do people today realize that they are living the kingdom of God when they pay taxes and when they give to charities to support the needy (even though some people take advantage and cheat)? Do people today realize that they are living the kingdom of God when they give to support the proclamation of God’s good news in congregations and around the world?
“Good Teacher, what must I do?” Jesus answers the question in ways that promote God’s kingdom on earth. Live according to the commandments. Share your wealth with the poor. Even what seems to be wasted will return to you, if you share it because of Jesus and the good news of God’s love and care for this creation—all this creation! Live God’s kingdom now, here on earth, and don’t worry about what seems impossible. Let God take care of that!
In Jesus’ name. Amen