Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, October 11, 2015
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
“Joys and Risks”
One day a rich man runs up to Jesus and kneels before him and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by outlining the demands of the commandments.
The rich man asserts his compliance. Jesus then calls on him to sell his possessions and give his money to the poor and follow him. The rich young man is shocked. He turns away and leaves because he had many, many possessions.
In our reading from The Gospel According to Mark, the story of rich man is placed between the blessing of the children (Mark 10:13-16) and the rewards of discipleship (Mark 10:28-31). What we learn in the blessing of the children is that the kingdom of God is received as a gift of grace. In the story of the rich man we learn that the righteousness worthy of the kingdom of God is beyond any of us if find ourselves attached not only to our money but to our possessions.
Then in the disciples’ response to the rich man’s shock and grief, we learn that his sorrow is something that Jesus understood. Peter reminds Jesus that he and the other disciples did far more than the rich man. They left everything to follow him – their houses, their parents, their children, their fields.
Jesus responds to Peter by making clear that the kingdom of God belongs to the broken, not the proud. We are never told what the rich man did, only that he walked away and perhaps in that moment when he felt broken by the demand made of him by Jesus, he was able to comprehend what Jesus meant. We may want to dismiss the shock and grief of the rich man by concluding that he was selfish but I believe Jesus saw that his heart was good and that his love for him was genuine (Mark 10:21).
The Bible says, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” and said, “If you sell what you own and give the money to the poor, you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). But why would Jesus demand such a sacrifice from him?
One possible answer is revealed in the story itself. The man’s wealth was important to him and it would seem more important even than eternal life. It may be that he assumed he could obtain eternal life without selling his property. After all he kept all of the commandments since his youth.
But Jesus’ encounter with the rich man also comes immediately after the blessing of the children. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15).
Could it be there was another option aside from keeping the commandments? The implications in the blessing of the children are clear. “The rich man is unlike the children. They were poor, but he is rich. They are dependent on others, he is not. They had no status or power. He had both. They had no security apart from those who cared for them, but he is quite secure in his own right” (Biblical Commentary, Mark 10:17-31, www.Lectionary.org).
Perhaps Jesus’ initial response was to call on the rich man to become like a child before God – “to strip himself of those things that provide him security so that he might his security in God” (Op. cit.) But Jesus makes a more difficult and painful demand as if to underscore for the rich man what we know to be true for ourselves – that God calls us into the church as Peter and the other disciples were called - to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be servants in the service of others.
“Simplifying our lives is never easy. Even when we think we have very little, in the grand scheme of life we have a lot of things, and each thing weighs upon us. Our possessions have far greater control over us than we might ever want to admit.
Our Christian faith calls us to let go of our attachment to things. Perhaps nowhere is this call greater than in our gospel reading from Mark, where someone, like the rich man, cannot quite put a finger on what he has to do to have eternal life.
Many of us might well relate to the rich man not necessarily because of how much we possess, but that we have lived good lives. But the weight of things still controls us (Seasons of the Spirit, SeasonsFUSION, Season of Creation, Pentecost 2 2015, Wood Lake Publishing, Inc., 2014, page 93)
Selling all we have and giving all to the poor may not be practical. But that does not let any of us off the hook. By reducing our dependence on our possessions, we may well find ourselves trusting in God more and more.
That is a lesson we can learn from those who have far less than ourselves.
Victoria Smith is a member of our church. She serves as the Outreach Coordinator for our Local Mission Fund. Through her work with the members of our Outreach Committee, Victoria receives and processes all of the requests for assistance that come in each month.
Her work requires long hours of patience and empathy. I am made aware of that each year when Victoria takes a break for three to four weeks during the summer. All of the telephone calls and emails are forwarded to my desk. Fortunately, I am faced with the task of receiving and processing the requests for a brief period of time.
The needs of individuals and families here on Maui as well as on Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi are numerous and great. Among a recent recipient was a young single mother with two children, ages 7 and 10. She received a scholarship and because she is currently enrolled in school, she is not able to work full-time.
With no spouse or family support, she requested assistance from our Outreach Committee to cover her monthly rent of $1,500.00. She had already applied for help from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development for rental housing for low income families and said that her request was approved. However, in order to move into her HUD housing unit, she needed to make the final payment on her current rental.
She provided the documents that were needed including the rental agreement, the landlord’s name and address, and a tax identification number. The Outreach Committee reviewed and approved her request.
All of the grants that are provided by the committee are just that – grants. They are not loans. There are no expectations that the individuals or families who are assisted are required to do anything for the church.
In a daily devotional based on our reading from Mark, Dr. David Winkle writes: “Jesus seems to have a tremendous concern for the poor, the sick and the downtrodden. In fact when we read Jesus’ teaching about judgment (and the kingdom of God) in Matthew 25, (he) is most concerned about how we treat the hungry, (the thirsty), the sick, the naked and the imprisoned. They are referred to as ‘the least of these,’ and Jesus considers the way they are treated as the basis for judgment. No one in the judgment scene that Jesus sets before us is asked, ‘How much wealth did you accumulate?’ In fact, everything seems to center around what was done for other people’” (www.sundayeducation.com).
“If Jesus is concerned about our wealth, his primary concern is how we use what has been entrusted to us – whether we are rich, middle class or poor. Jesus calls us to a life of servanthood for the sake of others. It is about loving others (instead of loving only ourselves). It is about taking up crosses instead of cash. It is about following him” (Op. cit.).
When I called the young mother with two children to let her know her request for assistance had been approved, it was evident from the tone of her voice that she was grateful and relieved. I informed her that the grant was not a loan.
“The one thing that is important to us is if you have the opportunity to help someone else in need, please do that,” I said. “It is about ‘paying it forward.’” What she said next reminded me that although she was poor, she was rich in many, many other ways.
“I will,” she replied and without boasting said, “I teach my children that already. My daughter found a twenty dollar bill on the street the other day. We saw a homeless man a few minutes later and decided to buy him lunch. We did that and took it to him.”
“Sometimes,” she said, “we pass out bottled water to the homeless.”
Jesus said, “When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink.” Come.