Sunday 14th October: Trinity 20: Proper 23
Amos 5: 6-7. Threat and promise from one of the earliest prophets (pre-&22 AD) whose main concern is for the corruption of Justice.
Hebrews 4: 12-16."The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword...all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account." But we have a saviour who knows our weaknesses so we can approach the throne of grace to receive mercy
Mark 10:17-31. Nowhere in the largely middle class, comfortable church we inhabit is that piece from Hebrews most apposite. We are acutely embarrassed by the notion that wealth and the kingdom of God don't mix and shy away from the issue. It is truly radical and I suggest it is about our priorities in life, our singleness of mind and loyalty to God as revealed in Christ. We can take heart that actually "Jesus looked and him and loved him"(verse 21) so while we are feeling embarrassed about wealth, Jesus does know and understands our complex lives and dilemmas.
"The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword...all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account."
These words from the letter to the Hebrews are no more true than when Jesus starts talking about money.
British people generally have a difficult time talking about money; what they get paid, and how they spend it. In our culture it is an intensely private thing and when Jesus starts talking about wealth being at best a hindrance and at worst antithetical to the Kingdom of God we all of us start to get a bit hot under the collar.
It isn’t helped by the fact that in relation to most people in the 1st century AD we are all immensely wealthy.
But if we can just step back and see what Jesus was really getting at in this altercation we can realise what He is getting at.
When we look at this issue it becomes clear that what wealth can do is give us a false sense of security and self sufficiency.
What is needful in the kingdom of God is a sense of the need of God; the need of a saviour.
What money does is increase our sense that we have everything we need already, so we obviously have no need of God.
Financial Self sufficiency and security can lead us into believing that we achieved everything ourselves and pride enters the equation. Wealth and humility are not necessarily strange bed fellows but they can be.
We tell ourselves that we worked hard for this money, it’s ours, and we can build walls around ourselves, not only against other people but also against God.
This was the position of the rich young man who came to Jesus asking how he could inherit eternal life?
Jesus saw deep into his soul and knew the problem at once. He asked him if he knew the commandments and kept them, which he did, but the divine physician diagnosed the spiritual problem as soon as he came to him and told him to sell his possessions and give them to the poor.
Because he had so much he went away grieving
And it is because most of us also have many possessions that this teaching grieves us as well.
We can feel that double edged sword cleaving us in two and piercing our soul.
Is that me, we ask ourselves?
The Probability that it might be, is high.
Because it is a question of priorities in our lives. Where in reality does God come in our lives.
All of us can question ourselves, me included asking “Is He integral to our lives or a pious Sunday add-on to the rest of our lives which we otherwise live in blissful avoidance of Him?”
So that rich young man could be any one of us at many and various times. We are all sinners. All of us are flawed.
But the crowning glory of Christian faith is that we are all saved sinners.
Before Jesus challenged him, in verse 21 Mark writes “Jesus looking at him, loved him and said”
Yes Jesus was challenging the young man but He was doing so out of love for him. Jesus is that essential friend who tells you the truth about yourself that others might baulk at saying.
For as it states today in Hebrews;
“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)
Jesus knows how conflicted we are and how getting by in this world is a constant challenge. He knows how easy it is to succumb to temptations. Tempting to surround ourselves with too many things which we imagine will protect us from all the calamities that can befall us in life.
He knows you and I better than we know ourselves. He looks at us with the same insight that He looked at that young man.
But just like that young man, He looks at us with love. He says these things not to defeat us. He says them to challenge us and try and form us into something better, something more perfect, something more Christ-like.
Before Christians were called Christians – something that we are told happened in Antioch in the early days we were called followers of the way – the way of Jesus.
Following Jesus in the way is not an easy option – it is full of challenges and today’s parable is just one of them. Jesus said Himself that the path is narrow that leads to life and few find it.
But in trying to do so, even when we fail, we are building the kingdom of heaven – we are the side of the angels – and at the last, our accumulated wealth cannot help us. Only God can do that. And this is Jesus’ point.
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and then everything else will be given as well.