It Is Not for Sale
20thafter Pentecost; October 14, 2018
Text: Mark 10:17-31
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It 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.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
After visiting Vancouver to look for a house last July, I had an experience of depression. To move to Vancouver, I needed to sell my home in Acton, ON. The process was not an easy one. We put our house on the market just before the summer holidays. The housing market was slower than I had expected. Because of the season and the new mortgage stress test, the market was not on my side. The more difficult challenge, however, was to decide what to bring to Vancouver. The move from a detached house to an apartment was not an easy task. I had to give up full-size furniture, many books, gardening tools, and many woodworking tools to accommodate a small place. I donated most of my furniture to a Syrian refugee family. It was not an easy decision since we had selected it to fit our needs and taste. But I decided to travel light. I am glad I did.
Now here in Vancouver I am living temporarily in a furnished apartment. In my room I have a closet but it does not have shelves or drawers to hold my clothes. So one day I asked Russ if he came across a dresser by the roadside to please pick it up for me. I didn’t care about the condition but I needed it to store my clothes. Russ found two dressers not by the roadside but from Graham who is renovating his house. He gave me two nice dressers, better than mine in Ontario. Russ and Graham reminded me of last week’s lectionary reading: Do not worry about where to store my clothes. Sound familiar?
Let’s return to today’s scripture reading. A man approaches Jesus and, falling to his knees, addresses him, saying, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” I think this rich man is a quite diplomatic: When you offer a compliment, you are likely to receive something good in return. But, something unusual is happening beyond the man’s imagination and expectation. A man who owned everything is running after a poor itinerant preacher who has nothing, not even anywhere to lay his head; Jesus is a street person. Surely, this is worth noticing. What is going on here?
Right from the beginning we can feel the tension. Jesus says to the man, “Why do you call me good. No one is good – except God alone.” In response to his, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus reminds him of the commandment he would know well. He is very comfortable with this response because he is a religious man; he has kept all the commandments since his youth. “But you lack one thing,” says Jesus. “Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor and then come follow me” What the man is asking is how he can gain the total package of eternal life in addition to his present life of luxury. How can he earn eternal life as a trade off or a reward? His question is about how he can achieve eternal life by his own efforts but the answer is to sell all that he has already gained and give away all his possessions and wealth. The question and answer are exact opposites.
Last Sunday Marilyn said she and Philip enjoyed their trip to Ontario and they liked watching the fall colours. Marilyn and Philip are not alone. I think many of you like fall colours, don’t you? When we are enjoying fall colours we do not expect the autumn splendor to continue forever. The beauty of fall is the changing colours of the leaves falling and being released from the trees. If the trees held their leaves permanently we might not pay attention to them even though they were pretty. I wonder why we love the autumn leaves. I wonder if we love them just because they are released from the trees and move on to the next stage of life. I wonder if we love this season because we love the process of the changing seasons, in the hope that next spring new leaves, being nourished by the fallen leaves will spring forth.
The wealthy man is searching for eternal life: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says sternly to the man: It cannot be purchased.It eludes the man who could buy anything the world has to offer. No, the world cannot offer eternal life. It is not for sale. It cannot be bought! It cannot be achieved. Jesus does not give him a recipe, a list of do’s and don’ts. Jesus simply asks him a profound question, “Why do you call me good?” It is as though Jesus is saying, “When stripped to the bare essentials, I am just like you. You are just like me. We are just alike – mortals, subject to pain, disease, death, depression, hungry, thirsty, angry, lonely and incomplete in ourselves.”
“Goodness” and the source of goodness are beyond our grasp and control. “God alone is good,” Jesus says. We cannot hold God’s goodness, it is impossible; but we can experience the power of Divine goodness in the beloved faith community, in meditation or prayer times, or in the fallen leaves. We cannot own the goodness of the eternal. We cannot grasp and bend it to our control. The fact that we try mightily to live by high, moral, and ethical standards is admirable. This attempt is to be applauded. But the rich man feels that something is missing. He feels the deep emptiness of which we all sometimes become aware. The glitter, bright lights, material things and the noise that covers, surrounds and begins to fade, and he, like us, becomes aware that we belong to something more enduring than all these things. Something eludes us, something that we cannot grasp, hold, or bend to our control. What is it that is beyond us and yet cries out from deep within us?
In the fallen leaves we see a sign of hope that new leaves will come out again the next spring. But we Christians have a different hope. We do not just watch and enjoy the fallen leaves and wait until new leaves come. When the rich man asks about “eternal life,” he is thinking of the life of the age to come. I imagine Jesus saying to the man “Look at the leaves.” Just as we need to release the leaves in the autumn, we need to release that of which we have more than enough. We need to lay down whatever we are holding on to. We need to be freed from the conventional wisdom that we can do anything if we just have enough money. We do not want to wait but take seriously the challenges of our time and place and do something for the kin-dom of God. In recognizing our limitations we hold hands together with others for the common good. On our faith journey we gather together this morning to encourage each other, listen to God’s wisdom and move on. We are companions on the journey, doing God’s mission together.
The kin-dom of God, or eternal life, is not for sale. We cannot purchase it with money. In this way we are all the same whether we are rich or poor. Eternal life will be given to us like fallen lives as we release what we hold on to. We share our resources with others not to inherit eternal life but because we try to imagine what it is like for those who are hungry and because we care for them. Born out of our concern for just relationships, the simplicity of faithful stewardship may allow us to pass through the eye of that “needle” as a gift from God. Thanks be to God for this gift of wisdom. Amen.
Hyuk Cho (The Rev. Dr.)
Coordinating Minister, West Point Grey United Church