For Lent 1
Text: Mark 10:17-31
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
As the parent of a toddler, I enjoy watching him learn new words and concepts on a daily basis. One concept that he has very recently figured out is that of possession. “My” is quickly becoming his favorite word. I ask him if he’ll share a bite of his food with me. “No! My!” Another kid gets too close to a toy he’s playing with, he pulls it away, saying, “My!” He sees something I am eating/using/working on, and tries to grab it while uttering a demanding, “My!” In my toddler, I see a microcosm of the human condition at work – the constant compulsion towards possession.
In today’s text, Jesus encounters a rich young man. We don’t know very much about this man. We know he is rich, and we also know that he is concerned about keeping God’s commandments. He comes to Jesus, not to test him, but to ask a genuine question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He tells Jesus that he’s kept the commandments since he was a child. This does not appear to be an exaggeration, or disingenuous, because Jesus looks at him, loves him, and he says, “There is just one thing you lack.” Just one thing! That’s great news! Surely this man who has, apparently, kept all of these commandments from his youth can do whatever Jesus is about to ask of him!
“Go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor, then come follow me.”
When I picture this scene unfolding, I see the young man’s jaw hitting the floor. I see a look of befuddlement in his eyes. I see him scratching his head, thinking he must have heard Jesus incorrectly. Maybe Jesus said, give alms to the poor. Maybe Jesus said, sell some of your stuff. But when he realizes that what Jesus has asked of him is nothing less than selling everything he has and giving it all away to the poor in order to come and follow him, it is more than he can handle. He simply cannot even fathom doing such a thing, or why Jesus might require it of him.
When Jesus asks the man to sell everything he has, he is not saying that his wealth is bad, nor is he saying that this cost is something that all wealthy people need to undertake in order to follow him. What Jesus is saying, however, to this young man, is that he not only needed to separate himself from his possessions, but that he needed to also consider his relationship to those who were on the margins. The ask was not just to sell his possessions, it was to sell them so that he could then give to the poor. Jesus was asking him to re-orient himself in relationship to his possessions and also to his neighbors. For this particular man, his possessions had become a barrier to loving his neighbor, which then also became a barrier to loving God.
I can’t stand in judgment of this rich young ruler without standing in judgment on myself. I can’t look at this story from a place of disconnection and distance. While it is true that Jesus doesn’t require every person to sell everything they have and give it to the poor, that doesn’t mean that I can dismiss it, shrugging it off, saying, “Well, Jesus isn’t talking to me, here.”
Just as Jesus seeks to help the rich young man become radically reoriented in relationship to his possessions and his neighbors, he asks you and me to do the same thing. He asks us to look at what we have, and what we do with what we have. Do we see our possessions, our money, our status, or our social capital, as means for ourselves alone, or do we see them as assets we can use to better love our neighbors, and consequently, God?
Jesus called this young man, and he went away dismayed. Jesus calls you and me today. What is your response?
o What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o Why do you think the rich young man was unable to do what Jesus asked?
o What do you think Jesus is saying to you through this story?
Jesus calls us to use what we have to serve others. Identify something that you have: time, money, possessions, influence, etc. How are you currently using it to serve others, especially vulnerable and marginalized people? How might you more effectively be about to use it to love your neighbors? Spend time journaling, praying, and then, most importantly, acting.
Take an inventory of your possessions. Consider what you might need to give away. Make a commitment over the season of Lent to simplify and let go of things that need to be let go. Donate where possible.
God, you call me out of my comfort. You call me to a life of radical discipleship. Give me a willing and courageous heart to respond to your call. Re-orient my heart and my life that I may better love my neighbor and better love you. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.