The 20th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 23B (Oct. 11, 2015)

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.” 26They 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.

Through the Eye of a Needle

It is a compelling image: the camel going through the eye of a needle. Some interpreters have suggested that Jesus is referring to a physical landmark; for instance: a gate in Jerusalem where a camel could only pass through if it was on its knees, or a mountain pass so narrow that riders had to dismount their camels before passing through. (In other words, “difficult but not impossible.”) I’m not persuaded. I never am drawn to explanations that strive to get Jesus off the hook. I believe his hard sayings are meant to be hard. Besides, even if you contend that Jesus doesn’t mean what he says in verse 25, you still have to deal with what he says in verse 27.

I’m more inclined to agree with C. S. Lewis, who argued that Jesus means what he says. Lewis included these words in his remarks: “You can get a camel through a needle, but it is going to be very hard on the camel.” Christian discipleship is not for the weak-hearted.

I also agree with a friend of mine who recently said, “Our relationship with our stuff is deeply complicated.” Indeed it is. Genesis 1 teaches us that all things are made by God, and have the capacity to bless us. If all things can be a blessing, then wealth must be included. There is nothing inherently wrong with wealth, and to be sure, faithful people have used their wealth throughout the centuries to advance the common good in the name of Jesus Christ. Yet using wealth to ensure our salvation is, as Jesus claims in this text, impossible. And at least in certain instances (such as the man who approaches Jesus in this text, asking what he needs to do to inherit eternal life), wealth can be a hindrance to salvation.

The question, then, is this: how do people like you and me, who arguably live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, during one of the wealthiest chapters of history, hear this text? We live in comfortable homes. We are more likely to overeat than to go hungry. Our children go to good (sometimes excellent) schools. We dress well. We drive nice automobiles. We can afford basic health care. We have retirement savings. We listen to music on sophisticated electronic devices… By any standard, we are among the wealthiest people in history.

Is Jesus speaking to us in this text? Are we to sell what we own and give it to the poor? Is it harder for us to get into heaven than it is for a thousand pound camel to go through the eye of a sewing needle? The hard news is this: yes, Jesus is speaking to us; and yes, it is extremely difficult — perhaps even impossible — for us to manage our wealth in a way that enables us to spend eternity with God. But as soon as we cry out, with the disciples, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus answers us as he answers them: “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

As is always the case with the law, these words drive us the cross, and remind us that even the most wealthy among us cannot purchase (with time, talent or treasure) God’s favor. We must humble ourselves, and learn to lean on the saving grace of God.

Our relationship with stuff is deeply complicated. To have wealth and be a disciple of Jesus can be very hard on a person. But thanks be to God, for whom all things are possible. We are loved and welcomed and transformed, no matter how much stuff we have. That’s the gospel of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What seems to be the intent of this man’s question to Jesus?
  2. Why does Jesus single him out as needing to give away all his wealth?
  3. What does Jesus want his disciples to understand about wealth?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What excuses do I make for myself, that prevent this text from touching my heart?
  2. What would it mean for me to be less committed to my possessions?
  3. What would that free me up to do (or be) for God? For others?