The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Saint Paul's Episcopal Church
October 15, 2006
Go, Sell, Give, Come,
for the Day
Psalm 90:1-8, 12
Mark 10:17-27 (28-31)
I greet you in the name of God our
Creator, Christ our Brother, and the Holy
Spirit who sustains and sanctifies us, empowering us
to love and to serve both God and Christ.
friend of mine is a Presbyterian clergywoman in Albemarle,
NC. She once commented that "it is a good idea to preach
from the lectionary because this keeps you from preaching
only your favorite parts of the Bible." I am not sure many
of us would name today's readings as among our favorites:
"rich young ruler" is a conflation of the three synoptic
gospels: only Matthew says he was young; only
Luke says he was a ruler. But they are unanimous
on this: the dude was rich. And it is
this -- his richness -- that causes us all to squirm.
re-cap: Jesus is setting out on a journey and a young man
rushes up to him, schmoozes him up with a little "good
teacher" language, and then asks Jesus what is necessary
to inherit eternal life. After a brief reminder that only
God is good, Jesus recounts for the man the last six of
the Ten Commandments -- all of the ones having to do with
how we humans relate to each other.
says the man. "Piece of Cake. 'Been doin' all that since I
was a little tyke."
looks at the man and he loves him -- celebrating the
man's earnestness and his devotion. And then Jesus
one thing; go, sell what you have, and
give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure
in heaven; then come, follow me."
again: Go, Sell, Give,
then Come, Follow. This text
is not mostly about selling, this text is
mostly about following. Yet we (and I
am talking about me here) are so afraid to sell
and to give that we never even get around to
thinking about the "come and follow" parts of this
young man who has entreated Jesus now knows what
eternal life requires. And the text tells us that "he
is shocked and he goes away grieving, for he has many
possessions". (Mark 10:22b NRSV
that we have come to know as the Rich Young Ruler is
unique in all the gospels: it is the only story in
the Gospel where someone refuses a call to follow Christ.
And the stumbling block is not right living -- for the
young man reports himself to have been living right since
stumbling block is "stuff" -- riches -- and the young
man "goes away grieving". Then Jesus continues by telling
us that "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."
not the first people to wrestle with this passage. In
fact, the passage causes so much discomfort that the
last portion has been oft- tortured -- trying to ease
the discomfort index of the listeners. You may have heard
that this portion of the text refers to a small door (the
needle's eye) in the Jerusalem City Gate.
So that --
while it would be difficult to get a camel through this
passage in the gate -- it would be orders of magnitude
easier than putting a real camel through the eye of
a real needle and maybe we rich people have
a chance after all!
This is a torturing of the Gospel that didn't appear until
some seven hundred years after the death of Christ. Seems
this passage caused discomfort among eighth century
Christians as well!
-- in the original languages the word for "camel" and the
word for "rope" are evidently quite similar. Perhaps you
have heard this passage interpreted as, "It is easier
for a rope to pass through the eye of a needle than for a
rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven". It's still
an unlikely image, but not nearly so impossible as getting
that ole dromedary through the eye of that needle.
Why is it
that people -- and by "people" I mean me
here -- will go to such great lengths to misinterpret a
are stuck with this passage.
And Jesus caps the story by pointing us -- simultaneously
-- to the source of all our frailty and also all our
strength and hope. The disciples ask Jesus who can be
saved, and Jesus replies "For mortals (being saved) is
impossible, but not for God; for God all things are
possible." (Mark 10:26 NRSV
passage begs the question: What does it mean to follow
Jesus in the way Jesus is asking us to follow him?
The Gospel of Mark -- thought by some to be the most
reliable of the Gospel accounts because it was written
earliest -- presents a picture of radical faith and
obedience to God. And it begs the question: what does
radical obedience look like?
this: only a handful of verses before today's passage we
meet this delightful passage:
hand causes you to stumble, cut it off . . . if your
foot causes you to stumble, cut it off . . . if your eye
causes you to stumble tear it out; it is better to enter
the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes
and to be thrown into hell . . . "
(Portions of Mark 9:43 - 47 NRSV)
hardly the domesticated, "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" to
which we have become accustomed
and with whom we have become comfortable!
Quite frankly, this is a very uncomfortable Jesus, at
least for me!
can we learn from this?
What might this story of the Rich Young Ruler mean to us
here and now, many of us having left our homes and a fair
amount of riches to be here this morning, seeking nothing
more than to learn more about God, to participate in the
Eucharist, to learn to walk in love as Christ loved us?
What do we
do about our riches? (And our hands, our feet, and our
eyes, for that matter?)
this -- even in the hard portions -- the Gospel
(and all of the Bible) is one big, sprawling love story.
It is the story of a God who creates and a God
who loves. A God who comes and walks among us,
and a God who dies for us. And a God who --
in the waters of Baptism -- dwells within us to conform
us to the very image of Christ.
stories -- both the Rich Young Ruler and the cutting off
of limbs -- are all about our participation in -- our
cooperation with -- God's love.
question -- broadly put -- is this: What do you love
more than you love God? What do you love so much that
it is an impediment to the Holy Spirit's ongoing work of
transforming you into the very image of Christ?
heard someone say:
me the thing that -- if you lost it -- would destroy
your faith in God -- and I will show you your true
could be money. And it could
be power. Or beauty. Or prestige. Or
talent. Or any combination of these bewitching
riches that whisper to us that God is not enough, not to
be trusted, not who God's long, sprawling love story tells
us God is.
is to get rid of anything that blocks you from a
total and utter dependence on God.
What is it
that -- if you lost it -- would destroy your faith in
discovered your true God, go -- give up this thing that
you have substituted for God, receive your treasure in
heaven -- then come and follow Jesus.
mortals (being saved) is impossible, but not for God; for
God all things are possible."
10:26 NRSV paraphrased)
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