This is a story that many of us hate, because it makes us very uncomfortable. But it’s an important story. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all believed it was important enough to be included in their Gospels. Does Jesus really want me to sell everything I have, give the money to the poor, and become poor myself? It doesn’t seem likely, and yet there is a truth in it.
I believe that I do I decent job of sharing my money and my things with people who need them. I give to some causes, I share with the poor, I am reasonably generous. And at the same time, I know that in view of the rest of the world I’m King of the Heap. As an American, I already have ridiculously more than much of the world, and ridiculously more than I need.
But does Jesus want us to be destitute, or even poor so that others can have more? I don’t think so. But I do believe that Jesus wants us to be aware of the discrepancy. He wants us to know of the great imbalance, and to keep that in mind when we make decisions. How can I help the world? When I see pictures of little kids in other countries sitting on literal mountains of plastic, do I keep that in mind when I shop? Do I buy the one mayonnaise or barbecue sauce in the glass jar, verses the other 19 in plastic? Do I bring my own bags, or at least ask for paper? These are small things, but they are something.
We need to keep Jesus’ challenge in mind when we read about the Environmental Protection Agency eliminating one more department that helps monitor air pollution, or the government protecting coal mines and the right to get more oil by fracking. How does this affect the world? How can I affect the world? These are important questions to ask. Carol is likely to need another car in the next few months. We should look at a hybrid. I really have no idea how much they cost. It’s probably more expensive, and when we had 4 or 5 kids at home, it wasn’t in the realm of possibility. But maybe it is now. We need to at least look at it. Our actions affect the world. Our choices, as part of the slim number of the world’s rich, need to take into account the world’s vulnerable and poor. And not just humans. Now, the word ‘Vulnerable’ includes the world itself.
Getting back to the rich young man. He sounds like a good, honest person who is trying his best to grow spiritually. He is wealthy, and in that day and age, that meant that God favored him with a special blessing. Wealth was a sign of having lived a good life, and meeting with God’s approval. So, he has the credentials to approach Jesus. He must be a good guy. When he asks Jesus what he needs to do, Jesus repeats the ABC’s of being a faithful Jew. Follow the commandments. The young man says, “I’ve already been doing that. Surely there’s more.”
An interesting detail in this story is that the man is kneeling. In every other story in Mark, when someone kneels in front of Jesus, they are asking for healing. Maybe that’s what his man is doing as well.
He already is wealthy. But, that’s not enough. He already has the respect of the people of the city. Because of his wealth, that would be a given. He also has high social standing. He would have servants, a fancy house, fashionable clothes, good food, maybe horses, and certainly spending money. Still, he is missing something. He doesn’t know what it is.
Unlike many others, he is also a man of faith. He knows the commandments, and he has kept them since he was a child. He is a good and decent man. And he is still missing something.
He kneels in front of Jesus (asking for healing?) and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, the fullness of life, life that lasts.
That is also interesting. He believes he has to DO something, in order to ‘inherit’ something. But we don’t usually have to work for an inheritance. It is something freely given, because someone loves us.
According to the Hebrew, Jesus “Looks him in the eye,” and “loves him.” He knows he is doing his best. He also knows that he is burdened. Words that might describe this young man could include Respected, Educated, Prudent, Cultured, Committed, Responsible, Powerful. A word that would not describe him is “Free.”
The root word for ‘Salvation’ is connected to ‘healing’: as in ‘fullness of life.” Jesus wants to know, ‘Is the person well? Are they whole?’ This man wasn’t. And he was asking Jesus for the fullness of life that lasts. Even though he tried, he knew he was missing something. He wanted to try harder. He knew he could do it. He could take on more. He could achieve his goal.
But Jesus said, “No, you don’t need to add on. You don’t need to do more. You need to subtract. Let go of what ties down your mind, spirit, and body. Be free. Just follow me.”
If Jesus looked at you, and asked you, “Are you well? Are you whole?” what would you say? What would you need to let go of, or what would you need to do to be well, to be whole?”
(Let’s take a minute to imagine this). Does anyone want to share?
I don’t think we need to let go of all of our money. But we Do need to let go of the attitude that money or our job or the expectation of others, or anything else, controls us. Jesus is saying, “Be free. Nothing is worth being controlled by. Nothing.” Get rid of anything that gets in the way of our freedom to follow him. We can follow him by being faithful in our families. We can follow him by doing good work in our jobs. We can follow him in how we relate to our friends. But we don’t want to be in a situation where anything other than God’s call to the fullness of life controls our choices.
I answer God’s call in my life by being faithful to my family, my friends, my congregation, and myself. That is where God is calling me now. That’s part of my following Jesus. That’s how many of us are following Jesus now.
But what we can’t do is get so entrenched in the way we’re used to doing things, that we don’t see the choices surrounding us. What is the fullness of life for us and for those we love? How do I share fullness of life with the rest of the world, and the earth itself? That is what Jesus is calling us today.