Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you ever tried to get ready to set out on a trip only to be interrupted over and over again? It can be very frustrating as the deadline approaches and some pressing need grabs our attention. There always seems to be a hundred things to do when we are about leave.
The Gospel lesson from Mark 10 was just such a time for Jesus. He is setting out on a journey and is stopped by a man with a pressing question. How tempting it must have been for Jesus to push the question aside or to tell the man that he should listen more carefully as he spoke. After all, there were other villages and other people waiting for Jesus; but Jesus, in his usually caring way, stopped and dealt with the man before him. Unlike our world, which is too often caught up in numbers and bigness, Jesus saw each person as a precious creation of God.
We can imagine that the man had perhaps been listening to Jesus teach. Why else would he have bothered to approach Jesus? He had probably been a part of the crowd that had listened to this new rabbi, perhaps amazed at the authority with which he taught, or at least the fresh approach that Jesus was offering on life and faith. But now that he saw Jesus about to leave, he wanted Jesus to get to the bottom line. What was the key part of these teachings that he could take with him and live a new and powerful way? He wanted to get to the heart of what the Gospel was about. He asks, “Good teacher, what do I have to do to inherit eternal life?”
Maybe the man was thinking, what more do I have to do? I’m a good person, I know the rules, the commandments, and I have faithfully kept them. I try to be a good neighbor, I try to do the thoughtful thing, but something is missing, something keeps me unsettled. What do I have to do? To be honest, he was probably looking either for a pat on the back for being a good person or a shortcut to a complete faith.
For we can’t be sure that the man wanted anything else to do, maybe all the man wanted was some assurance–a word of praise for being a good, decent, law abiding person, to hear that in keeping the commandments all he had to do was to keep up the good work, that God was proud of him. But don’t run up to Jesus and interrupt his journey if you don’t expect to be challenged. In addition, I would give all of us the same word of caution. Don’t go to God in prayer and not expect a challenge, a push to grow or change in our faith journey. And the risk, as for the man in the Gospel, is sticker shock for the soul. What we had understood as sufficient is only the beginning of something greater.
The point is not that the man had done anything wrong. In fact, Mark tells us that Jesus loved the man. After all, he was keeping the law; he was what we would call a good and decent man. Perhaps what Jesus saw was the potential for this man to join the ranks of the disciples, to take the next bold step on the faith journey.
First Jesus turned the flattery that the man had tried to get Jesus’ attention with back on the man. He called him “Good Teacher.” But Jesus replied, “No one is good but God alone.” Jesus wanted the man to see goodness is not something to obtain, to possess, but rather a goal to seek. He was challenging this law abiding man, that he could never be good enough; he was challenging the man’s pride. It would appear that Jesus didn’t want him to repeat the same mistake of which he was guilty at the time of this encounter, thinking he had arrived.
Perhaps Jesus saw that prideful front that the man had as a feeling of being invincible, that he could be in control of his life and not entrust that control to God. See, the mistake is asking what he could do instead of asking God what God would do in and through him. For when Jesus got to the bottom line, with love and compassion, he told him he was only one step away; but the man couldn’t take that step. He couldn’t trust God enough to give of what he had been blessed with to those not so blessed and to follow Jesus.
An American tourist in Jerusalem met up with a monk. The monk offered to show him around the monastery of which he was a part. On their tour they came to the monk’s room; the tourist noticed no TV or radio, only one change of clothes, a towel and a blanket. He asked, “How do you live so simply?” The monk answered, “I noticed you have only enough things to fill a suitcase; why do you live so simply?” To which the tourist replied, “But I’m just a tourist, I’m only traveling through.” To which the monk said, “So am I, so am I.”
Those things we think we must have, those things that we think we cannot live without–do we possess them, or do they possess us? I have noticed that yesterday’s luxuries tend to become today’s necessities.
Harold Kushner notes in When All You’ve Ever Wanted is Not Enough, “Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through.”
Have you heard the story of the minister, while conducting the wedding service stepping on the bride’ foot, realized his blunder and said, “I am so sorry, I know I hurt you. Why didn’t you tell me I was hurting you?” Sobbing the bride replied, “I thought it was a part of the service.” The challenge to the man was not to cause distress in his life but to change the focus of his life. It was not to create another thing to check off as done, but to free him from the dependency of things he could possess, to grow in his trust in God.
Our possessions, our wealth, our things can be obstacles between us and God. Whenever I travel by air and see how much luggage people take with them despite the fees, I remember what Jim Mullens in “Travel Tips” said, “If you want to get away from it all, don’t take it all with you.” But it is hard to let go of what we depend upon, to let go of what we think we need to trust in God’s grace and providence.
Christ call us to live a life not centered on what we have but what we receive from God.
Count your blessings every day. Give of yourself and your shall receive a greater gift through your trust in God. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.