A Provocation: Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost: October 14, 2018: Mark 10:17-31

Mark 10:17-31
10:17 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?”

10:18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

10:19 You 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.'”

10:20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”

10:21 Jesus, 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.”

10:22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

10:23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

10:24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

10:25 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.”

10:26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”

10:27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

10:28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”

10:29 Jesus 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,

10:30 who 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.

10:31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

A Question or Two:

  • Can you read this scene without attacking the young man?
  • Try.  Seriously.  Try.

Some Longer Reflections:

Jesus said to the young man, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor….”

Interpreters generally spend their time  on the impossibility of this demand.  That makes sense: the storyteller has Jesus acknowledge that such things are impossible for people, but possible with God.

But the danger of taking this scene to be about an impossible demand is that this makes it simply an illustration of how God’s grace does what human effort cannot do.

That’s fine.

But what if Jesus mean what he says?  (What a concept!)

What if Jesus actually means that God is intensely aware of the state of people who live in poverty?

Jesus’ demand reveals something important: the needs of people living in poverty unsettle us.  We expend considerable effort to defend ourselves against their needs.  Sometimes these defensive actions involve accusing people living in poverty of “making poor life choices.”  Unlike us, of course.  Sometimes these defensive actions involve arguing that doing what Jesus commands in this scene would actually be bad for people living in poverty.  “Bad” in a Darwinian sense: if the young man were to actually sell his possessions and actually give them to poor people, he would actually weaken them, since it better for people to have their children educated in schools with tattered books and catastrophically bad conditions because this will spur them to become neurosurgeons and move to the Upper East Side.

Or something.

What if Jesus means what he says?  What if we (all of us) actually have a responsibility to make it possible for all people to look at God’s Creation and say (with God), “Oh, how good!”?

The young man asked about living as an inheritor of the life of the aeon.  He wasn’t asking how he could earn his way into heaven.  You don’t earn what you inherit, after all.  And the reference to inheritance is significant for another reason: those who inherit the family fortune are those who have been raised in the family.  They show themselves, by every deed and every attitude, to be members of the family.

The young man is asking what sort of a life goes with being a member of the family that inherits the “life of the aeon” (a phrase that refers to the life of the “messianic age,” the age when everything is turned right side up).  He is asking how to live so that anyone looking at him would see the family trait (as deep as genetics) that works to turn the world right-side-up.

Jesus says that a sure sign of sharing the life of the aeon would be that the rich do not even imagine that we ought to defend ourselves against the needs of people who are poor.

Think about that slowly.

 

 

 

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