October 13-14, 2012
If this reading about the rich man makes any of you squirm,
let me say right off at the beginning, that I’m with you!
I hear Jesus’ words, “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”
and I know I’m a rich woman;
I know that this text convicts me;
and I know there are no loopholes.
That’s not to say that people over the years haven’t tried to find loopholes!
Those of you who have the King James Version of the Bible will see that
some have added words to make verse 24 read “how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God”!
Others have tried to say that the author was talking about a specific low gate into Jerusalem,
called ‘the eye of the needle’ through which camels
could pass if their packs were removed and they stooped down.
So maybe it’s just difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
Unfortunately there never was such a gate!
It was made up.
So we are left to make meaning of the words we have,
“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”
In the words of someone in a Bible study this week,
“Does that mean we’re all toast?”
I’m afraid the answer is ‘Yes’!….
We’re toast if salvation is up to us.
We’re toast if we’re the ones who are supposed to bring in the kingdom.
We’re toast if we think we can make it happen.
We’re toast if there wasn’t someone named Jesus.
It’s interesting to note that when the rich man addresses Jesus, he says
This is the only place in the gospels where Jesus is called that.
“Being good” has been important to the rich man all his life.
He’s followed each and every commandment.
He hasn’t killed anyone or committed adultery.
He hasn’t defrauded anyone or stolen from anyone.
He goes to synagogue.
He pays his taxes, mows his lawn,
attends his kids’ concerts at school,
votes in every election,
shovels his neighbor’s walk,
visits his aging mother in the nursing home,
volunteers at the soup kitchen,
he even remembers his anniversary every year.
He’s a good man.
He’s done everything right!
But he still feels like something is not right.
He has everything that money could buy,
but yet he is still restless.
Good teacher, what else can I do?
I’m a good man, what have I missed?
Why am I still not satisfied?
What else can I do to inherit eternal life?
The man believes that by ‘being good’ he can get what he wants.
There’s a problem when we think that following the commandments will result in heavenly rewards.
There’s a problem when we think that good behavior brings favor with God.
Not the least of which is the arrogance which assumes that those who have little – the poor – have somehow done something wrong to earn God’s disfavor – that they are somehow ‘not good’ in God’s eyes.
Another problem with the notion that good behavior leads to eternal blessings from God
is that we all know that sometimes terrible things happen to people and it isn’t their fault.
A number of years ago, I was with a three year old boy named Jason
who was receiving cancer treatment.
His central port had clotted off and we needed to get a peripheral IV line started.
His veins had all been scarred over because of multiple IV’s and blood draws over the past few months.
As we tried to get a line started over and over again,
little Jason kept crying out, “Please no – I’m a good boy. I’m a good boy!”
He was a good boy.
Being good does not prevent cancer.
Being good does not prevent poverty.
Being good does not stop life wrenching things from happening sometimes.
The rich man had tried to be good all his life.
Like most in the ancient world,
he probably attributes his wealth to his own stellar behavior.
Nonetheless, he recognizes that he needs something,
and he comes to Jesus for healing.
This is healing story after all.
It is a healing story which begins like so many others in the gospel of Mark.
The rich man (the one needing healing) runs up to Jesus and kneels at his feet.
He makes his request.
We expect like all the others in Mark,
like the man possessed by a demon,
the man with leprosy,
the woman with the hemorrhages,
he’ll receive healing and respond with appropriate joy and thanksgiving,
praising God and telling everyone about it (ignoring Jesus’ warnings).
Jesus offers him healing.
He offers to free him of the possessions which have possessed him;
he offers to cure him of his excess.
But this is the one person in the entire book of Mark who rejects the healing offered him.
The man turns away, grieving.
I grieve too.
I have way too much stuff.
I’m not planning to go home this afternoon, get on ebay,
and sell my laptop or my kindle or my iphone or my car or my bike or my golf clubs or my cross-country skiis –
(Can you believe I have cross-country skiis and I don’t even know how to ski???!!!)
Am I refusing to be healed by Jesus? What can I do to inherit eternal life?
I can’t do anything. Jesus says, “For mortals it’s impossible. But not for God. “
Yes, there is still the problem of having too much stuff.
We use stuff to fill some emptiness within us.
We use stuff to feel safe from the anxieties of life.
Stuff gives us the illusion that we are in control.
And Stuff also keeps us from recognizing our need for God.
The rich man feels rather confident and secure in life.
He doesn’t think he needs God at all.
He thinks he can handle it all himself – even into eternity.
So he asks, “What more can I do to inherit eternal life?”
And then Jesus tells him that to be healed,
to find the peace and satisfaction that he is looking for,
the prescription is to release his wealth and give it to the poor –
– to allow himself to recognize the even he, who has everything else, is dependent on God.
Jesus’ response is that there is nothing he or anyone else can do.
We can’t ever “be good” enough to save ourselves.
Only God is good.
Here’s one place in Mark where the disciples got it right!
By leaving everything behind to follow Jesus,
they freed themselves of what would stand between them
and total dependence on God.
In many ways Jesus calls us to be like children like Jason
or like those who know they are really sick
or like disciples who have let go of all the things they once relied on –
in order even to see how much we need Jesus.
What must we do to inherit eternal life?
Salvation is impossible except for God.
For God all things are possible.” [i]