FIT FOR LIFE: WORTH HAVING
Mark 10:17-31 The Rev. Helen Havlik
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 14, 2019
We talk about people being physically fit or mentally fit, in other words, in good condition or health. So what does it mean to be spiritually fit? This summer we’re looking at what it means to be Fit for Life—the life God is calling us to live as followers of Jesus Christ. If we want to be spiritually fit we have to clear some hurdles that can hold us back. We’ve already talked about the hurdle of pride—and the perfectionism that goes with it—and the hurdle of conformity to the values of this world. This morning we’re looking at the hurdle of wealth. I’m reading from Mark, Ch. 10, beginning with vs. 17. Here’s the holy word of God.
Call me old-fashioned but I still subscribe to the Grand Rapids Press, so I read an actual newspaper three times a week. And about a month ago, I read the following headline: “It’s a biblical thing: wealthy evangelist explains his fleet of private jets.” Hmm. Let me think about that a minute. I could fly anywhere I want at a moment’s notice? With no one to bug me during the flight? No crying babies or having to sit next to anyone with an agenda? God would want me fresh for whatever came next, right? Apparently, that’s what Kenneth Copeland, a televangelist, was thinking about the jet he purchased from actor/producer Tyler Perry for an undisclosed price that still needed $2.5 million in upgrades. That’s the third plane parked in his hangar! Copeland justifies his purchase by saying he needs quiet time that he can’t get on a Delta flight: “You can’t manage that today, in this dope-filled world, [to pray] in a long tube with a bunch of demons. It’s deadly.” Of course, those demons are the people he asked for donations from, right? (“It’s a biblical thing,” Michael Brice-Saddler, The Grand Rapids Press, June 20, 2019).
The disciples are shocked, perplexed, astounded as Jesus responds to the man who comes to him, wanting to know what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Later on what they remember most is his wealth—his Armani suit and Rolex. His hands were smooth while theirs were calloused. Maybe Jesus mentions a camel because that’s what he rode up on? Anyone could see he had more than enough money—and they all knew this was a sign of God’s blessing in his life. The equation went like this: good people are blessed and bad people are cursed—and, of course, only good people inherit eternal life. And the man confirms his goodness by telling Jesus how religious he is. He’s been faithful to his wife, has never lied in court, has earned his way to the top of his company and his parents live in the best retirement home he could find. There’s no evidence here he’s exaggerating—he’s on his knees when he says it. He seems to be genuine—if only the disciples could be so blessed! They’re in awe of such a man—good people like this don’t come along every day. At least that’s what they’re thinking as he walks away—and so don’t notice his head hanging. Then Jesus turns to them and says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Wait. What? They can’t believe their ears—wealth equals good equals God’s blessing, nothing could be simpler. And then they remember Jesus told the man to get rid of it all—sell everything, give to the poor, follow me.
Did we really hear that right? Surely, Jesus can’t really mean this! Maybe he’s talking about just really wealthy people—like the Meijers or the DeVosses. Maybe this applies only to those who earn seven figure salaries—so most of us, then, really are poor. So we don’t have to worry about this? Maybe he’s talking about anything that gets in the way of faith—he must mean that, not money. He can’t literally mean we’re to sell all our stuff! We’ve just finished paying off the car loan or the mortgage. We just managed to save enough for that special trip—or the new roof on the house. Yet look carefully at this story. What if Jesus isn’t talking about wealth? What if the discussion isn’t really about what we have or don’t have or how we acquire salvation or inherit eternal life? The problem with such questions is that, according to Jesus, there’s nothing we can do to inherit eternal life—it’s as absurd as thinking a camel could go through the eye of a needle. We cannot save ourselves—only God can. And anyway salvation isn’t based on that time-honored equation of wealth equals good equals God’s blessing. Salvation is based only on God’s grace and forgiveness. What Jesus asks for is more than simply following the rules—and it goes way beyond selling everything. Let’s assume the man is doing everything right—and yet he knows it’s not enough. Even with all his money, he knows something is missing and trusts Jesus to have the answer. The answer that surprised him really shouldn’t surprise us. Follow me. We’ve heard it before because Jesus said it to Peter and James and John and Martha and so many others. “You have a lot—but the one thing you absolutely need is the one thing that’s lacking. Follow me.”
What we often miss in this story is that Jesus calls the man to be his disciple —to decide that among all the things in the world, that’s the one thing worth having. I imagine that as he looks at the group he’d be joining, suddenly his life flashes before his eyes. The expensive home, the elaborate meals he shares with guests, the objects he collects and shows off with great pride. The comfort and prestige and power he enjoys—gone. I imagine him looking at those disciples, in ragged clothes, everything they own wrapped up in a cloth, not knowing day to day where they will sleep and what they will eat. The utter simplicity and dependence of their lives on the God he claims to know so well, the sense of loss of everything he holds dear, hits him and he walks away in tears. He turns down the best offer anyone ever made to him. He can’t get over this hurdle. He walks away from the very inheritance he says he wants.
Mostly we don’t want to think we have to give up anything to follow Jesus—we want what we have and we want our salvation, too. The truth is only God can give what’s really worth having—and it isn’t a hangar of private jets or even shelves full of books. It’s to know in the deep recesses of our hearts that God loves us and cares about what happens to us and that nothing can separate us from that. We can’t create, earn or buy that—we can only receive it as a gift. Jesus isn’t glorifying poverty or condemning wealth per se—he’s offering us the chance to define ourselves not by how much we have or what we do but by whose we are. His call to discipleship is a call to put aside our own ambitions for the ambition of God for us.
Jesus promises his disciples they will have what they need—a home, a family, here and now and later. He doesn’t promise it will be fancy or that the family will be only blood relatives, but what we have will be enough because he is sufficient. I can’t help but wonder if the man in this story ever changed his mind—if somewhere down the road he turned around to find himself face to face with the Lord. Maybe Mark wants us to wonder—and to choose, right now, to clear the hurdle of wealth and just follow Jesus.