Sunday 11th October 2015, 8am and 10am
How do you feel as you listen to today’s gospel? It isn’t an easy one to listen to, when we ourselves are among the more wealthy on this earth. The suggestion seems a bit radical: sell what you have, give away the proceeds and follow Jesus. That can make us feel a bit nervous. What do we do with this story?
Let’s start our reflection today, by walking alongside as the story unfolds. It’s a story found in 3 of the 4 gospels (Matthew 19:16-30, Luke 18:18-30 and here in Mark). And in each, it follows one of people bringing children to Jesus, and the disciples trying to prevent that from happening, and Jesus saying, “Hey, don’t try and stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. In fact you need to be like a little child to receive it” Can you imagine the reaction of these burly men, the disciples to such a thought as that? The Kingdom of God belongs to children and they need to be like a little child to receive it!! And then comes our story today, another kingdom of God story.
Jesus begins a journey, and as he does so, he is stopped as a man runs up to him and kneels before him. Who is this man? We don’t know his name. But we will discover he is rich. The way he dressed could have indicated that: the type of cloth – fine linen perhaps, the colours and embroideries, his footwear. We can but surmise. However what would have out of place with this man’s wealth and status was that he ran. He didn’t walk, or command that Jesus come to him. He just ran and knelt before Jesus.
Why did he do that? Had he been looking for Jesus? What drew him towards Jesus? We do not know. What we do know, is that something deep within this man was restless. Something deep within him was searching and longing. He had not, in all his living to this point, found what he was looking for.
“Good Teacher” he said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was asking about an inheritance. “How do I inherit eternal life? What must I do?” What an insightful question. For there to be an inheritance someone must first die. Jesus had been talking for some time now about his own death. About heading towards Jerusalem, and about dying. Did this man know about that? Had he been in the crowds before, had he heard stories? We don’t know. However this man was insistent: what could he do to make it happen? What he need to do to inherit eternal life?
Watch now as Jesus responds. First of all he asks the man – “why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Had this man somehow realise that Jesus was the Son of God? He seems to have a perceptive and seeking heart. Then Jesus reminds him of the commandments.
The man responds with, “I’ve kept them since I was young”. Was that arrogance in the man? Or was this a man who live in such a way that he felt he was living a godly life. Had he longed to find eternal life in even in keeping the commandments but had not, and still his restless and seeking heart wanted more.
Notice Jesus’s response? His gaze on this man kneeling in such a public way in front of him, his wealthy cloak and his sandaled feet undoubtedly covered in dust stirred up as he ran. Jesus gazed at him. And he loved him. Imagine if you will, the love of the Son of God, focussing on this man, seeing his searching heart. Imagine Jesus, knowing that he, himself would soon be crucified on a cross and left to die, so that every person could inherit eternal life, now looking at this man who was so close to knowing that for himself. Imagine then, the man gazing into the eyes of Jesus and seeing that love pouring forth.
What did the man think Jesus would tell him to do? We can be certain that the response Jesus made was unexpected. “Sell what you own, give the money to the poor and follow me” Sell, Give and Follow. And this is where it gets very awkward for us, isn’t it. Sell, Give, Follow.
How does the man respond? It is with shock and then grief. He has many possessions. This was not the answer he was expecting. Somehow, he gathers himself up, perhaps even dusts off his clothes, all the while stunned. Totally shocked. Disbelief ringing in his ears. And then, as he takes it all in, he walks away.
Did the eyes of love, the eyes of Jesus, the Son of God, follow him as he wandered off? It could well be so, because we then read of Jesus looking around and then talking to his disciples. Saying to them, “It’s hard for those who are rich in this world, to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
What is Jesus saying? Is he saying we cannot own things? That’s unlikely: think about the houses Jesus stayed in: Simon the leper where Jesus was anointed with precious nard, the home of Martha and Mary where Jesus often visited, think of the owner of the donkey used when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the Upper Room where the last supper was shared, the tomb Jesus was buried in also owned by another.
What was Jesus asking of the man? Was it about what he held onto. Was he asking him where his security lay? Was the man’s question one about a doubt, a lingering unease within him? Was he asking, “Am I doing ok, Jesus?” All the wealth in the world doesn’t answer his inner questioning, What must I do?
Jesus continues talking to his disciples about possessions and riches, and about entering the kingdom of God. Jesus gives that outrageous word picture to explain how hard it is for those with wealth. A camel trying to go through the eye of a needle. Impossible! We know that. Bewildered, the disciples mumble amongst themselves. “Who then can be saved?” Why are they wondering that? Why did they think that the wealthy were more likely to be saved?
Had they still not grasped the topsy turvey nature of the kingdom of God. Remember a few weeks ago, we talked about Jesus asking the disciples who he was. And Peter piped up, “You‘re the Messiah,” but got it all wrong because Messiah meant Jesus was the suffering servant, not a reigning, wealthy king. Had they not listened to the sermon on the mount, where Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Frequently Jesus spoke of the kingdom values of love, of taking up our cross and following, of losing our lives rather than gaining in this world.
Jesus response to the disciples wondering of who could be saved, was to say, “For mortals, it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” This we know. We cannot save ourselves. It is God who in love and mercy sent Jesus, to die on the cross and to rise again, so that out of his grace and mercy would come the gift of eternal life. The Life of the kingdom.
So why did the rich man’s possessions come into this? Jesus was talking about this life here on earth. And what it meant to follow him. As the man knelt before Jesus, the one who would be the Redeemer of the world, he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus was filled with love for this man who diligently tried to live a godly life, but who was still seeking for that depth of peace that comes only from God. And gazing at this man, in love Jesus saw what it was that held this man back. It was his wealth, his possessions.
Jesus’s response to the man was: will you sell what you have, turn your eyes towards this world and people whom I love and use what you have to care for them, and then will you follow me? Will you do something with what you cherish, and then will you come and follow me?
The invitation is there for each one of us: to come and kneel before God, to pray the prayer that the rich man offered, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And just as the rich man did, to linger, to allow the gaze of Jesus, his eyes of love to meet ours, and then to wait long enough to hear God’s response to our prayer.
Jesus died and rose again. The gift of eternal life is there for us, if we would take hold of it. It’s the most beautiful of gifts: Life in all its fullness. As we reflect with this gospel perhaps there can be time to be still, to kneel before our Lord, and to ask, is there something you are asking of each one of us? Is there something we need to lay aside as we come to follow you?
Just now, as we begin this period of transition, from worshipping in this beautiful place, the Taranaki Cathedral Church, to being somewhere else, as yet unknown. Is there something in us that is being invited to let go for now, even of this place. As we do so, know that the eyes of Jesus are filled with love for each one of us. Jesus is the one who knows what it is to have been displaced, to have let go of all that he was and to have come and lived among us. Is that what we are being invited to do: to let go for now, and to follow. To focus our eyes, even in the grief we feel as our Cathedral is temporarily closed, to focus our eyes simply upon Jesus, and the world he died for, knowing that as we do so, those eyes of love, the eyes of Jesus will never ever leave us.