Mark 10:17-31 • 10/14/2012
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
A shepherd was tending his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new Cadillac Escalade appeared out of a dust cloud, raced toward him and came to a stop right in front of him as the tires screeched to a halt. The driver was a well-groomed and well-dressed young man wearing all the latest in fashion. His suit alone was worth more money than the shepherd had seen in his entire life. This Cadillac driving, designer suit-wearing man leaned out the window and asked the shepherd, “If I can tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?”
The shepherd looked at the young man, then at his peacefully grazing flock, and calmly answered, “Sure.”
The young man parked the Escalade, whipped out his Macbook Pro computer, connected it to his iPhone, surfed over to a NASA website where he called up a GPS satellite navigation system and scanned the area in which the flock of sheep were grazing. He then opened up a database and created a few spreadsheets with complex formulas.
Finally – he printed out a 150 page report on his miniaturized wireless printer, turned around to the shepherd and said, “You have exactly 1,586 sheep in your flock!”
“Amazing! That’s correct!” said the shepherd. “Like I agreed, you can take one of my sheep.”
The shepherd watched the man make a selection and bundle it into his Escalade. When he was finished the shepherd said, “If I can tell you exactly what you do for a living, where you’re from and who you work for, will you give me my sheep back?”
“OK, why not,” answered the young man.
“You work for an agricultural consulting firm from Palm Beach and you have never actually worked in agriculture in any way, shape, or form outside of a corporate board room,” said the shepherd.
“Wow! I guess that’s correct,” said the young man. “How did you ever know that?”
“Easy,” answered the shepherd. “Nobody called you, but you showed up here anyway. You want to be paid for providing a solution to a question I already knew the answer to. And you clearly don’t know squat about agriculture, especially shepherding sheep. Now…can I have my dog back?”
Have you ever tried to be a consultant for God? Showed up out of the blue and asked God a list of questions concerning things that you want or need – or at least think you need. You expect answers from God, of course, even though you have already formulated the answers you are planning to hear long before you even bothered to ask the question?
Or does something like this sound familiar, “OK God, just get me out of this jam that I’m in and I’ll be in church every Sunday for the rest of my life.”
I think the rich man in our gospel reading today is being genuine when he approaches Jesus. He kneels before Jesus after all as he asks the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He is a successful person in the community. And a large measure of his success has probably been because he’s had complete control in most of the decisions he’s made. I don’t think the intent of his question is to trap Jesus like the Pharisees do when they ask him questions. I think this man is genuinely interested in his relationship with God. I think he really is seeking to become a follower of Jesus. He wants to know what he has to do. By doing something though, he remains in control – not only of his stuff, but also of his eternal life. After all, he seems to have maintained pretty good control when it came to keeping the law – why can’t he do the same with eternal life? But Jesus knows there is something in the way. You and I and the rich man have things like wealth that constantly get in the way of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Jesus tells the man to go and sell everything he owns. The point Jesus is making is that you can’t do something to inherit eternal life. You can only receive.
Author and Pastor Max Lucado once put it this way as he envisioned what Jesus might say to the rich man. I think his thoughts speak to you and me today too. Lucado wrote, “What you want costs far more than what you can pay. You don’t need a system, you need a Savior. You don’t need a resume, you need a Redeemer…God does not save us because of what we’ve done. Only a puny god could be bought with tithes. Only an egotistical god would be impressed with our pain. Only a temperamental god could be satisfied by sacrifices. Only a heartless god would sell salvation to the highest bidders. And only a great God does for his children what they can’t do for themselves.”
The rich man’s wealth, and your wealth and my wealth too, can’t buy anything in God’s kingdom. All we can do as children of God is receive.
We have all probably heard the saying, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” It’s a thought that I see limiting our life in Christ in a very negative way. It simplifies our life in Christ to only be about a final journey to heaven. Heaven is some place “out there” or “up there” out of our reach or experience. And if we live good lives and are not bad little boys and girls, when we die, we will go to heaven.
Theologian Frederick Buechner said, “We think of eternal life, if we think of it at all, as what happens when life ends.” Buechner says this instead, “We would do better to think of it (eternal life) as what happens when life begins.” [Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, Frederick Buechner, pg. 25-26]
Jesus was never controlled by possessions, as the rich man was, or as you and I often are, as our churches seem to be at times. The rich man in today’s gospel held so tightly to his stuff that his stuff had completely taken over who he was or would ever be. He couldn’t let go in order to simply receive what Jesus was offering.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, take note of what Jesus does in verse 21 of today’s gospel reading. Even though the rich man can’t let go of his stuff, Jesus looks at him and loves him. Jesus wasn’t adding to his burdens or wealth or possessions, he was offering him a loving and gracious invitation to begin life.
What’s possessing you today? Your wealth? Your job? The stuff in your garage? Needing to feel like you are in control of everything that happens? Jesus doesn’t want you to add more things to your life that burden and possess you. He simply wants you and everything that makes you, you – including the things that keep you from God, in order for you to live. And you know what – Jesus looks at you too. And loves you, simply for being you. Amen.
- Don’t Confuse Wealth with Life (interruptingthesilence.com)