Pentecost 20, Proper 23 Mark 10: 17-22
Jesus and his band of disciples were setting out on his journey to Jerusalem. They may not have looked like much, but the One walking the dusty road south is He who kneeled in the dust and fashioned humanity and the rest of the living creatures. He made the star cluster Pleiades and the constellation Orion. He turns deep darkness to light and darkens the day to night. This is the Lord who, “satisfies us in the morning with His steadfast love that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”(Ps. 90: 14) But he also makes destruction flash forth against the mighty. He urged his people through the prophet Amos, “If you would live, make your way to the Lord.” “Turn to good and not evil…that the Lord, the God of Hosts of heaven may be with you, as you claim he is.”
The situation was so bad in Israel that the prophet Amos warned that the one who reproves those who seek evil would be hated; abhorred for speaking the truth. Therefore, “In such a time…it is prudent to stay quiet.” However, Jesus ignored the warning and advice of the prophet. Jesus, the Lord, reproved the Pharisees when they came to him with their question about divorce. He pointed to their hardness of heart, and took them back to the truth of God’s word in Genesis.
They hated and abhorred him for his reproof and truth. He would pay dearly for his indiscretion. He also knows how many are our transgressions and how great are our sins. He would pay dearly upon the cross for them too.
He also reproved his disciples when they sought to shoo away parents and their children. He had instead welcomed them and gathered them into his arms speaking the truth that of such is the kingdom of God, and he blessed them.
Watching all that went on in the town east of the Jordan River was a person who was haunted by a lingering question. He had heeded the word of the Lord through Amos in which God pleaded, “seek me and live…seek the Lord and live…Seek good and not evil that you may live…hate evil and love good and establish justice in the city gate…If you would live, make your way to me.”
He had spent his entire life turning to the Lord and holding onto the Lord. It was his way of life. He delighted in the commandments of God. He was gracious, merciful and upright in his conduct. He didn’t abuse anyone sexually. He didn’t bring bogus lawsuits against the poor and then pay off the judges to rule in his favor so that he could get control of their land and lives. He honored his parents. He didn’t try to silence the preachers or implement policies which forced God’s people to go against their religious convictions. He didn’t seek to raise the grain tax on the poor in order to finance his comfortable lifestyle at their expense. He took it as proof of his faithfulness to the Lord’s commandment, when wealth and riches had accumulated in his accounts. He had a house built by the craftsmanship of stonemasons. He had planted pleasant vineyards yielding fine wine. He was living the life of shalom, peace and harmony and prosperity.
He had everything that his heart could desire; yet the desire of his heart still yearned for something more. He sensed he lacked something. He wanted the Lord to be his dwelling place not only now but forever – from everlasting to everlasting. While Jesus was on the road out of town he made his way to him. He kneeled in the dust before Jesus, like someone seeking healing.
He pleaded, “Good teacher. What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus deflects the question and asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
You and I standing by the side of the road observing this exchange want call to out, “But you are God. Jesus you are good, all good.” We’ve known that since the first verse of Mark, when we read, “This is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” We heard it affirmed at his baptism when the heavenly Father spoke from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. When he breathes his last breathe on the cross, the centurion affirms, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
But is it enough for us to stand at a distance observing the man kneeling before Jesus? Ought we not to be kneeling in the dust with him? The one kneeling before him wants to know if he is good enough to inherit the kingdom. Are we good enough to inherit eternal life? What else must we do? What’s it going to take to make it happen? Martin Luther also asked himself that question in his monk’s cell. Before the fullness of the gospel was revealed to him he was haunted by the thought that no matter how much he did, he could not please Jesus the judge of our sins and transgressions.
We have already heard that the man in the dust at Jesus feet has led a blameless and righteous life before the Lord from his youth. Yet, he was lacking the one thing needful, the thing that we all need, trust in God above all else. Entry into God’s kingdom, eternal life is not about being good, but trusting in God’s good grace.
Jesus looked deeply into the man kneeling before him. He didn’t judge him; he didn’t dismiss him as one more person trying to trap him. He loved him, with the same outgoing love which God extends us. It’s that love that would lead Jesus to extend his arms on the cross, the same welcoming arms he wrapped around the children. He regarded the man kneeling in the dust with unconditional love, a never ending love, a love that greets us in the morning, accompanies us the whole day through, and watches over us during the nighttime hours.
Jesus identifies what the man is lacking. It’s centered in the very wealth that God enabled him to accumulate. But now it stood in the way. “Sell all that you have and give it the poor.” He should distribute his wealth to the poor that they might have more? But then he would be among the poor. Treasures in heaven may be all well and good, but how does that fill my stomach? How does that feed my family? Wasn’t that an extreme demand?
But it was no more extreme than the demand God had placed on His own son, Jesus. In response to the pronouncement of forgiveness this morning, we joined our voices with all the Host of heaven in singing to the Lamb of God, “For Thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord. Thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost are most high in the glory of God the Father.” He gave up all power and majesty and glory. Even his throne stationed above angels and archangels, where surrounded by the whole company of heaven he was the object of their continuous. Jesus not only gave up his wealth but his very life for the world, including the rich man kneeling in the dust before him, including you and me sitting in our comfortable pew.
The man kneeling in the dust before Jesus was called upon to give all that he had, not to the church, but to the poor and then come follow Jesus. At that point the man who ran after Jesus seeking the Lord that he might live trudged away. Disheartened, he went away sorrowful. He just couldn’t make the break, “for he had great possessions.”
Now the ball is in our court. Invited to discipleship, we are called to be aware of the things that would keep us from following Jesus, “on the way.” We have already acknowledged this morning that Jesus “grace always precedes and follows us.” On the basis of that grace we prayed, “Help us to forsake all trust in earthly gain and to find in You our heavenly treasure.” If that was truly our prayer, what will we do when Jesus answers it as he has promised he will?
But remember while we wait. We are God’s children. Residents in God’s Kingdom. Jesus holds us in his arms and blessed us.