Easy Does It

Text: Mark 10:23-31
Date: Pentecost XXII Proper 24 + 10/21/18

15 – 23 – 53 – 65 – 70 – Mega Ball 7. Mega Millions jackpot explodes to record $1.6 billion after no winner in latest drawing. Believe it or not I’ve never bought a lottery ticket. I would imagine however that the higher the jackpot the more tickets are sold. The subject is money. Money itself is not the problem. The Bible says it is the love of money that is a root of all evil (1 Tim 6:10). When there is a problem we say, “Follow the money.”

Last week we heard of a rich young man who went away disheartened when Jesus answered his question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” saying, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). The problem wasn’t the great riches in themselves but it is the question of love and trust in them.

We are at about the half way point of Mark’s Gospel. From here on Jesus proceeds to His goal, the cross and tomb of death for the life of the world. We are called to follow Jesus and put all our trust in Him because eternal life is a free gift of God and not something that can be gained by our works. So today it is as if Jesus slams the door on works-righteousness, the fundamental preparation for emptying ourselves to receive God’s grace.

After the young man departed Mark tells us Jesus turned and looked around at His disciples and said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Notice that He does not put a minimum number on that. We all have wealth of some kind. The issue is made clearer in the next line included in some manuscripts, “Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God.” Again the issue is not the wealth but in what (or Whom) do you trust?

Mark tells us the disciples were “amazed” and “exceedingly astonished” at these words. Why? Once again the fact that we for some reason equate salvation with the result of our worthiness for it, of our works is so deeply ingrained in our fallen, sinful, stupid nature keeps hanging on regardless of whether we know better or not.

After three years of teaching His disciples and especially Simon Peter as their leader I can imagine a bruise on Jesus’ forehead. How often did the disciples not understand what He was saying? And Peter! Remember when Jesus invited him to walk to Him on the water but Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and almost drowned. I wonder if, just before reaching down to grab him, whether out of exasperation with him didn’t first slap his own forehead. And again the time when Jesus began to teach them how He must go to Jerusalem and be killed, Peter ignorantly said, “This will never happen to you, Lord.” [Slap] “Wake up, Pete. You’re not thinking God’s thoughts.” So here how does Peter react to the thought that it will be difficult or impossible for rich people to enter the kingdom? “Hey! See, we have left everything and followed you. Good for us don’t you think?” [Slap]

Realizing the hold wealth and possessions had on them and all people the disciples finally became exasperated themselves and drew the bottom line conclusion, “Then who can be saved?” Finally! It is when we become empty, when all we can do is give up that we come to that threshold of the door of repentance; emptied of ourselves and our works in order to be filled by God’s grace. To that Jesus uses Peter’s own words to promise not only that eternal life and heaven is in your future, it is in your possession now. Eternal life is that “fear, love and trust in God above all things” we learn about in the catechism. Eternal life begins now relying only on faith in God’s word and work as the Apostle says elsewhere, not that we will be someday, but “we are,” even now, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). The only difference is that “we are not there yet” and it is still possible to lose God’s gift. That’s what Jesus means when He says, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first,” that is many who were once in the kingdom may find themselves excluded, yet many who have neglected or ignored God’s call today, may still find themselves included because of God’s gift of faith worked in them through God’s word.

So put away every temptation to find any worthiness in yourself, your own piety, your own good works and let all that flow from God’s gifts of grace to you. “Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). Go, sell all you have, that is, put your trust in Jesus alone and you will have eternal life now and forever.