Mark begins, “Jesus continued down the road.” Faith is a journey. God calls Abram and Sarah “to go to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12) God calls Moses “to go down into Pharaoh’s land,” face down a superpower, and liberate a people. Jesus traveled from town to town healing people and proclaiming the coming kin-dom of God. (Matthew 9; Luke 9) “As Jesus continued down the road”, gets at the in-betweenness (not-yet-thereness) we all experience. “As Jesus continued down the road, a person ran up to Jesus.” I wonder if this one called by commentators the rich young ruler was held up by a longer than necessary Zoom call, soccer practice, or distracted by their phone and now they frantically run to catch up to Jesus? Why do we laud busyness and distraction as signs of abundant living?
Out of breath, the rich young ruler catches up with Jesus along the road. The ruler shows deep respect kneeling in the middle of the road before the Rabbi Jesus. Postures of prayer and meditation slow us down. They help us wrestle with the bigger questions. Stopping and kneeling, the executive asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”
Notice that the executive did not ask,”How can I get into heaven?” but a different question, “What must I do to inherit, adopt, obtain, possess, partake of eternal life?” How do we possess a meaningful life? Jesus answers, “You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.” Jesus does not reject the commandments, indeed, any path to a meaningful life involves keeping the commandments by loving God and humanity. We are upheld and fulfilled by worshipful, ethical and communal traditions and practices. Jesus warns those leaning too heavily on faith statements that many proclaim “Lord, Lord” while living with their hearts far from God. (Matthew 7,15) If we want to possess wholeness in life, the commandments direct us along an abundant path. Still, we may say, “Teacher, I’ve kept all of these things since I was a child and something is missing.” Faith alone, or rules alone, will likely leave us lacking; Jesus invites us into a deeper abandonment, letting go of running after possessions, that brings about an inner resurrection and soulful wholeness.
“Jesus looked at the rich young ruler carefully and loved them.” It is so easy to forget to love people. In these days of baked-in amplified social media extremes, it is easy for Christians to forget Jesus’ greatest commandment: Love others! Our culture is having a torrid affair with anger, mockery, and ridicule. Jesus looked at the rich young ruler carefully and loved them. Love sees the complexity of another’s humanity. Loving us, Jesus looks carefully at each of us and says in love, “You are lacking one thing.”
We might be tempted to make this sermon about wealth. It is stewardship season, but to focus only on wealth might pull us away from Christ’s focus on the person who stopped running and kneels before God asking how can I possess a life that endures. Let us keep Love’s point of view by refusing to characterize the rich young ruler’s inner emptiness as one dimensional or capable of a market-based correction. When someone you love lacks something they desperately need, does not God’s Love stir a deep empathetic aching within you? Jesus even those who seemingly have it all: beauty, manners, faithfulness, wealth, health, access, and power, but somehow still feel holes in our hearts.
What will cure our inner aching, lack, and emptiness? Jesus offers a radical prescription not with judgement but with redemptive empathy. “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” The devil once tempted Jesus with authority, power, privilege, and pleasure, Jesus knows the vapid allure of mis-spending your life on self-centered pleasure.
You lack one thing… Go, sell, and give the money away. Possess treasure in heaven. And come, follow me. It is the consumer culture that silently chokes the life out of us. Jesus beckons us to let go of the market god’s financial success plan. Jesus offers us a radically divergent prescription by inviting us to exchange wealth for spiritual abundance. Jesus laments how many well-meaning Christians allow “the worries of this life and the allure of wealth to choke out God’s life-giving Word.” (Matthew 13) The Bhagavad Gita proclaims that material possessions are the chains of the soul, dragging us slowly imperceptibly down into hell. “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, give your wealth away. Possess heaven’s treasure. Come, follow Jesus.”
We could use this text to beat up the rich. If we blast the patriarchy and the super-rich, we may manage to escape examining our own financial priorities. Jesus is speaking to us who by and large do not really know food, healthcare, or housing insecurity. Jesus says to us, “It is very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” Jesus’ message that “you can’t serve God and wealth” (Luke 6) was and is so radically counter cultural, that Jesus must repeat the message a second time! Jesus says it twice and adds a graphic image,: “Children, it’s difficult for the rich to enter God’s kin-dom! It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kin-dom.” The disciples were even more startled and shocked the second time and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?” They, like us, worship at the altars of power, success,wealth,celebrity, politician, athlete, artist, and tycoon. When will we stop believing the market god’s lie that we will possess a fulfilling life when we finally have, hold, and hoard enough? Unsettled by Jesus’ prescription to “go, sell and give away possessions so as to possess life,” the disciples stop talking to Jesus about money and instead debate Jesus’ words among themselves! They are just like us!
Our love of wealth makes it harder for us to thread the spiritual needle and inherit the kin-dom of heaven. Still, “nothing is impossible with God.” John Wesley sees what money could do through us of we truly offered ourselves to God, “In the hands of God’s children, money is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothing for the ragged, shelter for the stranger, income for the widow, security for the orphan,defense for the oppressed, healthcare for the sick and hope for the downcast!” John Wesley’s sermon The Use of Money.
Loving us enough to confront our inner emptiness, Jesus invites us to let go. Will we die to possessions so we might possess life? The offering plate is a symbol of our offering our living to God. It reminds us that our purchases, possessions and financial decisions shape our souls. Jesus invites us to bring our financial decisions before God, knelling, carefully and prayerfully considering each one. How can God be at the center of our living if we do offer our financial plans and purchases to God? Let us stop running and kneel before The Christ, who sees deeply into our souls so as to even see the one thing that we lack. Hear the hopeful news! Go, sell what you own. You do not need all this stuff! Give the money away. Find your treasure in heaven. And come follow Jesus. And be assured that anyone who has left houses, family, businesses, or bank accounts to build God’s kin-dom will receive a hundred times more spiritual treasure in this life and in the coming age. Let us find the courage to let go of our love affair with possessions so that we might possess this life and the one to come. Amen.