Open your bibles to Mark 10 and let’s read verses 17-31 together.
I know what you are thinking, or at least should be thinking, that our story this afternoon is a little too “on the nose” based on our conversation about finances and giving. How “preacher-like” to pull a story about giving up money and the apparent dangerous of failing to do so in the context of talking about his own livelihood. I would be skeptical if I were you!
Here’s the thing, while most of us hear guilting to give, this story is actually a story about freedom and love, about entering into the grand, generous, and glorious life with God that Jesus has been calling kingdom. A kingdom received and at the same time a kingdom we must enter into.
You see, our history together and our future still ahead depends much on your response to the Jesus whose stories we have been sharing with one another. John, Jesus’ most beloved friend, says that he wrote his gospel stories in order that you and I might, “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31). Life in Christ—the apostle Paul’s favorite phrase.
Belief and life. Belief that God is alive and all of life comes from him, today and forever more. That life today is lived in God with us, God in us. Belief that is lived, experienced. Known not only in our minds as true statements about Jesus but in the depth of our being, our souls that cling to a truth that feels so inverted to the way of life that we have been raised to follow. Belief that is lived, experienced in mind, in soul, and body. In our taste buds as we enjoy a crisp apple and dinner with a friend, as well as the sour sting of spoiled milk. Life in Christ experienced upon the very ground that our feet grasp, in the places we walk each day; living room floors, cracked sidewalks, office hallways—whatever holy material we stride across. Life in Christ experienced in the smells that fill our memories with love and the stenches that cloud our senses with doubt. Life in Christ in the sun rises that awake our eyes to the beauty and power of our Creator and the devastating images of hate and horror that cause us to cry out to the same “How long O Lord?” Life in Christ experienced in the still small voice that speaks hope and direction in the midst of chaos shouting at the top its lungs.
Eternal life. That’s what John wants us to have. Life that comes from and in the person of Jesus who is God and King, Savior and Lord. Life that is lived fully, abundantly, with depth and awareness in every fiber of our being, in every relationship we are gifted, in every moment of our every day. One author notes that such life has “staying power”, a life lived with a sober surety, a life with purpose, life eternal. Contrast eternal life with a life lived that is inconsequential, frivolous, naive or without satisfaction and you get the tension that plagued the young man of wealth and authority in our story.
Did you hear that? The parallel stories in Matthew and Luke tell us that the man in our story is young—life is all in front of him. He is wealthy—successful in his endeavors. He is a man of authority—he has more control over his life than most, he is independent and able to get what he wants. By all accounts he a man whose material life and moral life makes him the picture of a godly person, one who certainly is in on what God is doing. And yet, this perfect picture of a kingdom citizen is missing something. He is unsatisfied with life as it is, as good as it is, he wants more.
His running and kneeling before a peasant rabbi betrays the desperation of his dissatisfaction, of his longing for life that has staying power now and forever. So, like many of us, he seeks out Jesus for the answer to life, a better life, a fuller life, more life. Have you ever cried out to Jesus with the same desperation and dissatisfaction in life—whether out of plenty or in hunger, in abundance or in need? I imagine that we all have, probably multiple times!
Now get this, his cry is heard! Jesus listens to him not just passively hearing his words, but actively engaging him to draw out this young man’s heart, to see the genuineness of his desire. And, Jesus loves him. Jesus sees him, and loves him just as he is, materially and morally all put together, desperate for something true that satisfies. Then, Jesus actually answers his question, his plea! Jesus listens, loves and answers. The very thing we all long for. The very experience that if it were ours would propel us to a faithful and joyous life—life eternal.
And yet, this man walks away sorrowful, disheartened, grieved.
What then is happening? Why does this man get everything we think we want from Jesus when we cry out to him, run to him, worship him; only to walk away with weighty despair?
There are two things we need to notice about this story. The first that it is a story is about living in God’s kingdom—this same bountiful and holy kingdom under the rule of the same just and generous King that Jesus’ stories have been confronting us with, encouraging us to embrace and live in with courage and freedom. In fact, it is a story of that provides a visual and personal example of Jesus’ statement just prior. Read with me 10:13-16,
And they were bringing children to [Jesus] that he might touch them [bless them, heal them, give them new and full life], and the disciples rebuked them [these who longed for life in Jesus but were nothing special]. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant [angry] and said to [his disciples], ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And [Jesus] took [the children] in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
Now, let’s re-read Jesus’ response to the sorrowful rejection of the invitation he extended to the young man in verses 23-31; listening for the words Jesus uses in relation to verses 13-16,
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples [the same that rejected the children], ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And his disciples were amazed at his words [because someone who has it all—materially and morally—is obviously a kingdom person, the ideal picture we strive for as kingdom people]. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ And [the disciples] were exceedingly astonished and said to [Jesus] ‘Then who can be saved?’ [their whole concept of life with God completely evaporated, just like the young man’s]. Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.’ [as one translation puts it, ‘No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.’]. Peter began to say to [Jesus], ‘See we have left everything and followed you.’ [similar to the young man’s explanation of his life]. Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel [of the kingdom (1:14)], who will not receive a hundred fold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers [no fathers, just relationship with the Father] and children and lands, with persecution, and in the age to come eternal life. But [once again, remember Ben’s sermon on 9:30-37 and the generous land owner, the great reversal of expectations] many who are first shall be last, and the last first.’
The story is about receiving the kingdom, entering the way of life with God, now and forever, life with staying power. A life that turns our expectations upside down…answers our cries for something more with commanding mercy.
In all our stories thus far we have been draw to Jesus, recognizing something missing in our perceptions of God and way of life with him, and so, at least I pray, that like me you have sought out this Jesus for a way of life that is more, that has staying power.
Listen again to Jesus’ response to the young man in verse 21,
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’
Jesus, seeing this man, commands him with the mercy of one who loves him already, who only wants what is best and full and true and beautiful for him. Commands him to release what binds him from freedom and to join Jesus as a companion in God’s Story. What an invitation! What a command!
There is nothing wrong with the man’s wealth—if there were then it would be wrong for even the poor to possess it. Neither was there anything wrong with his moral aptitude—after all Jesus did not come to demolish a holy life but to fulfill it. So what is the issue? What is holding this man back from being who God has made him to be, from living a truly God life?
As one author points out, this man was “capable only of not doing evil; he is not able to do good…He lacks the freedom to enjoy who he is and what he has…His material possessions are piled around him and crowd him into a tiny space in which there is no room to enjoy or use them.” His material favor and moral excellence have shrunk his life. They have excluded relationship with the Father and with his neighbors, and his soul knows it.
The sorrow that his man feels at the commanding mercy of Jesus shows just how accurate Jesus’ invitation was to a very different life for this man. The same word used to describe this man’s sadness is used again in Matthew’s gospel to describe the response of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane just before his death on the cross, just before Jesus would “experience the ultimate dislocation, the ultimate disorientation” of his identity and relationship with his Father.
It is as if this man knows as he turns and walks away that he is giving up on life with purpose. He knows he has been heard, has been seen, has been loved and has been answered by one who has the answer he seeks. Yet the answer is not one he was looking for. A commanding mercy that would free him to live a kingdom life in a relationship which he is already loved and thus free to give and love.
That is what Jesus does for you and I you know. He listens to us, he see us, he knows us, he loves us and he answers us with commanding mercy to free us to enter into a way of life with God.
There is an interesting and similar interaction between Jesus and another person seeking his wisdom on life. When asked by a scribe in Mark chapter 12, what is the greatest command—another way of asking about how to live a life with staying power—Jesus says to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all of our strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The scribe, unlike the young ruler, recognizes the profound inversion of Jesus’ response and answers as one who just had a most marvelous epiphany, “You are right Teacher…that command of love of God and neighbor is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices…better than religion as I have known it! And Jesus’ response, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
Again, in your life, through these stories these last several months, this is what Jesus does for you and I. He listens to us, he see us, he knows us, he loves us and he answers us with commanding mercy to free us to enter into a way of life with God. A way that inverts our life.
It won’t always be the answer that we are looking for, and will be different for each. To another man who asked the same life with staying power question, Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan and a command to love and serve like he did. What is Jesus commandingly and mercifully saving you from?
“What must we do? Simple. Use our possessions as gifts. Use our morality as a means of love. Use the stuff of creation, this marvelous material world, and use the stuff of our personhood, our capacity to choose and express love. Use what we have in our hands and what we have in our hearts. Put it to use in our neighborhoods with our neighbors.”
Will we? Will we enter the kingdom, having received it like a child, like ones who know that the way is impossible on our own, but absolutely sure with our Father?
After this story Jesus walks side-by-side with his disciples (the same invitation he extended to the young man) along the road toward Jerusalem one last time, and Peter (via Mark) comments that “And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.”
Amazed at the invitation afraid of what it means to enter the kingdom of God. You are in good company!