Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost  /  October 15, 2006

Text:  Mark 10: 17 – 31  /  Message by Rev. Carol Kniseley

Resurrection Lutheran Church  /  Fredericksburg, VA

 

All Things Are Possible

 

The question the young man asked of Jesus is really a very good one.    In fact, it’s every person’s question when we get right down to it.  

 

“What must I do…Jesus…to inherit eternal life?”

 

It was a sincere question…being asked by someone who seemed to have all the answers.   To look at him was to look at someone at the top of his game.    He was rich…in every sense of the word.    Young…good looking…dressed in the finest that money could buy.   He had amassed great wealth, or so it seemed,  and in so doing was thought by many to be highly favored by God.    Because that is one of the things that wealth meant in his day.    His riches were his credentials, the very things that gave him the right to approach Jesus in the first place.  

 

Notice that Jesus was not impressed.     “You know the commandments,” he says, and spouts off half of them.   Do not do this…do not do that.    Honor your father and mother.   Any confirmation student could have easily recited the rest.      Seeing how the man wanted something he could “do”…then that is exactly what Jesus gave him, and us.     Only to hear the man reply with absolute honesty that he had kept all of these since his youth.      He has come to the end of what he could do for himself.    It is then that Jesus turned…and taking a real good look at him, the Gospel says…he loved him.   

 

What Jesus saw in the rich young ruler, I suspect, is something that he sees in many of us sitting here today:  true seekers…folks who have honestly kept God’s word to the best of their ability and applied that word to their life in genuine obedience to God.    In other words, Jesus is in a sense…talking to the choir.   The rich young ruler…if he were here today…would be one of us.   One of God’s  people…who knows there is more to life than what he has experienced thus far…and who knows to whom he must go to find the answer.

 

“You lack one thing,” Jesus says, and surely the man’s heart must have skipped a beat in anticipation of the long awaited answer.    At last!   Someone who sees past what he has to what he lacks and who will help him find what is missing.

Whatever it is, he will do it.    Whatever it costs, he will pay it.   Whatever it requires of him, he will earn it.     He will do anything to add the prize of eternal life to his already full treasure chest…only he never anticipated that it was not going to be a matter of simple addition…but instead, of subtraction.  

 

“Go…sell what you own…and give the money to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come…and follow me.”

 

Of all the words that Jesus could have said, those are not the ones we want to hear.    Mark’s Gospel says the young man was absolutely shocked and went away not happy… but deeply grieved… for he had many possessions.     

 

There have been times in my life, when I must admit to having wondered if the story of the rich young ruler is not that of our own.   There have been times when I look around at all the wealth we as a nation have accumulated…and wonder if we have done all that we can do…to help our fellow human beings?     Have we truly given all that we can give?   Can any of us say that we have given it all away to the point that we are actually diminished in some way because of what we have done?  

 

In hearing the story of the rich young ruler, I can’t help but think of something that John the Baptist once said when looking at Jesus one day: “I must decrease…and he must increase”.    You want to know how a camel can fit through the eye of a needle?    In the same way that you and I are able to enter into the Kingdom of God.     In baptism, we decrease to the point that we no longer exist.    Our old selves, including our old ways of clinging to everything that we can get our hands on, is joined to the life…death…and resurrection of the one who gave his life for all.    And is doing so…”gifts” us with the promise of eternal life.   

 

What the rich young ruler failed to grasp was that the kingdom of God simply is not for sale.  The poor can not buy it with their poverty any more than the rich can buy it with their wealth.      The kingdom of God is God’s gift…to be given to whomever God pleases…and for whatever reasons please God.     The only catch is…you have got to be free to receive it.     You can not be so tied up with the “stuff” of this life or too tied down to respond.   You can not accept God’s gift if you have no spare hands with which to receive it.     You can not make room for it…if your rooms are already full.   And most important of all, you can not follow Jesus…if you are not free to go.

 

If you ask me, that is why the rich young ruler…went away so sad.   All at once, he understood that he was not free to go.    Which makes him the only person in all four Gospels to have received a personal invitation from Jesus to follow…and he turned and walked away.       I know what you are thinking right now.    The college tuition…the mortgage payment…the doctor’s bills…caring for an aging parent…saving for the future.  I know.  It’s the same for me.     There are days when threading a camel seems easier than following Jesus.      So…who can be saved you might ask?     And who is brave enough to be free?    The question…hasn’t really changed all that much.   But then again, neither has the answer.    For you and me, it is impossible.    But not for God.    For God…all things are possible.      Now go…and follow the Lord.       Amen