Giving Up Our Wealth

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Today’s
Gospel reminds us that salvation is the work of God.  Our task is to let the saving work of God… the Kingdom of
God invade our hearts and minds, where it can, change, mold and shape us.  In
order for that to happen, we need to see the empty wealth we cling to… the
beliefs that prevent us from receiving the Kingdom of God… and give it up.  We need to hear the Word of God and let
it teach us as Jesus taught his disciples.  We need to receive the love of God and the gifts of his
Spirit into our lives and let them grow and shine brightly in us.


20th
Sunday after Pentecost

October
14, 2012

Mark
10:17-31

Peder Stenslie           

Somebody’s
world gets rocked pretty hard in today’s Gospel lesson.

A
rich man comes to Jesus seeking the key to righteousness… eternal life.  I guess you could say he wants it
all.  It is clear, by the way he
approaches and talks to Jesus, that he is full of confidence. He just wants a
little affirmation from Jesus.  “I
got this nailed, right Jesus?” he seems to ask. 

The
lesson says that when Jesus looked at the man, he loved him.  That is a powerful phrase and a
profound moment.  Yet the reply Jesus
gives the man is devastating.  Christ
tells him to give up what he cherishes most… his wealth and standing… and
follow him.  In essence, Jesus is
saying, “Forget who you have been; let me remake who you are.”  The man can’t do it and walks away defeated.

There
are more key lines that follow.  With
the rich man gone, Jesus turns to the disciples and declares: “How hard it will
be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”  The disciples react strongly to this
statement.  The original Greek text
says they are…
θαμβοντο, which
means “amazed” or “perplexed.” 

Jesus elaborates further by saying:  “It is easier for a camel to go through
the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  With that, the amazement of the
disciples becomes even more pronounced. 
The lessons reads: “They were greatly astounded and said to one
another, ‘Then who can be saved?’” 

These
statements of Jesus were so bewildering and shocking to the disciples because
they firmly held a mistaken belief that was common in their world (and is still
around today).  The rich man also
held this belief, and that is why he was so unprepared for and devastated by
Jesus’ answer.

I’m
talking about the belief that God favors the wealthy.  Their wealth and good fortune are believed to be signs of
God’s favor.  The rich man was so
sure of this that he could not even respond to Jesus’ rejection of that
view.  The disciples were so sure
of it that they were “exceedingly astounded” when Jesus told them, “It ain’t
so.”

Jesus
sees this wrong belief in both the rich man and in his disciples.  He knows this wrong belief gets in the
way of understanding the Kingdom of God. 
It gets in the way of receiving the grace of God.  It hinders the work of God in the heart
and in the world. 

Therefore,
he confronts it aggressively.  He
does so because he knows that these people he loves… the rich man and his
disciples… they have to shake off this false belief before they can be freed to
see the Kingdom of God for what it is and be able to live as God has called
them to live. 

I
know that many people hear today’s lesson and figure it doesn’t apply to them
because it’s about the dangers of being rich… and, well, they’re not rich.  But this story has something to tell
all of us.  For sure, it tells us
something about the dangers and problems of wealth, but it also speaks of truth
and reality far more basic than that.

We
all have a tendency to hang on to beliefs that we imagine serve us well, but,
in fact, hurt us.  We cling to them
and insist they’re true even as these beliefs fail us.

I
see this as I work with students at my school.  This year… like every year… I have a number of students who
create problems as they strive to “be bad.”  Living large by “being bad” is a value they hold… a belief
they share.  It is, in fact, their
wealth… their currency.  It’s what
they know and trust… what they accumulate and spend.

For
example, one student I have this year seeks attention and respect by getting in
the face of pretty much everybody. 
He wants the girls to be amazed, astonished and impressed by how cool
and how bad he is.  He wants the
boys to be impressed and intimidated by his hardcore attitude.

We
tried explaining to him how destructive his behavior is to the process and
people of our school, including himself. 
We explained how eventually he’d have to deal with consequences that he
wouldn’t like… all to no avail.  He
trusts his wealth.

So
now he spends much of his day isolated in order to minimize his ability to
disrupt the education of other students. 
He sits and works in quiet areas where he can get work done without
being distracted by the presence of his peers.   He hates this
situation, and wants to get back with his friends and peers.  But he won’t let go of his wealth.  He won’t let go of his belief that “being
bad” pays off big for him and enhances his life.

Yet
his losses increase every day.  The
adults of the school… who should and would be his greatest support and ally… come
to see him as a problem and treat him accordingly.  He loses the respect of a growing number of people,
including many of his peers.  He
loses freedom and time with his friends and classmates. 

If
it continues, he will possibly be removed from the regular school setting
entirely and lose the opportunity to be educated with his classmates at
all.  And the losses just keep
mounting as time goes by, eventually affecting his life well beyond school and
the 6th grade.

I
mean… I know where this goes.  I’ve
seen it many times before.  He trusts
his wealth so completely that he commits himself to a reputation, a circle of
friends and a pattern of behavior that will further limit his freedom and lock
him into a very narrow range of possible futures. 

His
trust in his “bad boy” wealth will, in the end, leave him frustrated, angry and
deeply weakened for life.  Rather
than bringing him strength and respect, his belief will bring him loss of
freedom, loss of power, loss of relationships and loss of possibilities.

This
same mistaken belief in the power of one’s wealth (whatever it is we perceive
is our wealth) is what lies behind today’s Gospel.  It applies to all of us.  We are all like the rich man.

We
are reminded by Jesus’ words and actions that we all need to be saved, not only
from sin and death, but also from ourselves.  We so easily invest ourselves in false ideas of wealth that
we believe give us status, power, value… happiness.  But the truth is, false wealth brings us none of these
things.

Instead,
Jesus reminds us to turn our attention to what God can do with us.  He tells his astounded disciples:  “For mortals it is impossible, but not
for God; for God all things are possible.”  God knows what we were created for.  He knows what we need to be whole.  As he commanded the rich man, Jesus
also commands us:  “Give up your
wealth.  Follow me… and let me
remake you.”

Today’s
Gospel reminds us that salvation is the work of God.  Our task is to let the saving work of God… the Kingdom of
God invade our hearts and minds, where it can, change, mold and shape us.

In
order for that to happen, we need to see the empty wealth we cling to… the
beliefs that prevent us from receiving the Kingdom of God… and give it up.  We need to hear the Word of God and let
it teach us as Jesus taught his disciples.  We need to receive the love of God and the gifts of his
Spirit into our lives and let them grow and shine brightly in us.

Jesus
looked at the rich man and loved him… just as he looks at you and me and loves
us.  Out of love, Jesus calls us to
give up our false ideas about what makes us great or cool or righteous and
receive what he has to give.  

He
doesn’t ask this in a timid way. 
He commands it rather sternly. 
He does so because he knows how much our foolishness hurts us.  He knows how tightly we cling to
it.    He knows the life
and truth we were created for.  He
knows what awaits us when God’s love and Spirit take root and grow in our lives.

True
wealth that we never before imagined will be ours… in this age… this life… and
in the age to come.  That is the
promise that concludes today’s Gospel lesson.  This wealth is very different from the wealth we imagine we
need or believe will make us happy and great.  But it is the gift that makes our lives whole and breaks the
bonds of death.  It is the gift by
which God does the impossible and makes us fully and eternally alive.

Amen.