Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 23B (10/11/2009)

The Camel and the Eye of the Needle 

Lessons:     Amos 5:6-7, 10-15     Psalm 90:12-17     Hebrews 4:12-16     St. Mark 10:17-31     Semicontinuous Series         Job 23:1-9, 16-17         Psalm 22:1-15 (1)   Prayer of the Day     Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith, that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead, we may follow the way of your commandments and receive the crown of everlasting joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

10:17 As he 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?" 18 Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You 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.' " 20 He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." 21 Jesus, 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." 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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." 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" 27 Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." 28 Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." 29 Jesus 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, 30 who 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. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."

St. Mark 10:17-31 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

I am the rich man in this week's Gospel lesson. It takes only a few moments in front of the television screen these days to realize that. Throughout the world people live with debilitating hunger: if I was hungry, I'd grab a frozen dinner from the freezer and pop it in the microwave. We see people in war torn lands patching up their homes with mud and scrap lumber: if my home had a hole in it, I'd head off to Home Depot, and return with a truck filled with new materials. I am the rich man Jesus is speaking to in today's Gospel lesson. Ouch!

A man runs up to Jesus, drops to his knees, and asks, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit Eternal Life?" He is a man who has obeyed the commandments -- obviously a devoutly religious man. You would think that Jesus would commend him for his extraordinary faithfulness. But no, Jesus says to this man:  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. It is then, after the man departs shocked and grieving, that Jesus turns to his listeners and says: How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God... 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.

Is that the advice that Jesus would give to you or me today? It may well be. It may be that wealth is incompatible with the life of faith. It may be that when we have much, we become too busy caring for it, protecting it, and developing it, until we have no energy left for more important matters.

But at the risk of playing fast and loose with Scripture, I want to suggest that Jesus may mean something else. (Did I just hear a sigh of relief?) Our Lord is one who had tremendous insights into people and their lives. He is able to meet complete strangers, like the woman at the well or the tax collector Matthew, and know much about them and the way they lived. He is able to look into their eyes, and know their stories. I can't help but wonder if that's what he does with this young man. I can't help but wonder if Jesus doesn't lovingly look at this man and see someone who honestly and earnestly desired the kingdom, but who also deeply values his many possessions. Perhaps he is one who seriously wants to be right with God, but if it comes to choosing between God and his comfortable lifestyle, he has a deeper attachment to his comfort, and can't give it up. So Jesus challenges him: "Give it up, or lose the kingdom."

Is giving up everything meant to be a hard and fast rule for every believer? I doubt it. Jesus allows Zacchaeus to keep two thirds of his wealth, and still commends him for faithfulness. There are others of high standing who don't hear this same command. No Jesus isn't one who demands that every believer give up everything in order to be faithful to him. But Jesus is one who wants every believer to be, first and foremost, a seeker of the kingdom of God. And if someone is more attached to anything other than this journey towards faithfulness, then perhaps Jesus would say the same thing today.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Gospel:

  1. Do you suppose that this man's ability to acquire wealth made him think that he could acquire the kingdom of God as well?
  2. What did Jesus see when he looked into his eyes?
  3. How did his wealth make it hard for him to receive God's grace?

Connecting with This Week's Gospel:

  1. How do my riches delude me into thinking that I can earn my salvation as well?
  2. When have I experienced the grace of God that makes all things possible?
  3. What kind of impact has my faith had on my life on a day-to-day basis?