Anglican Church of Canada
21st Sunday after
Our Gospel reading for today tells the story of a bright young man who met Jesus. Well, Mark doesn't actually say that he is "young." Matthew calls him "young," and Luke says that he was a "ruler." Mark just calls him a generic "man." In other words, let's say that this "man" stands there before Jesus representing all of us. He had "great possessions," but so do we, when we are compared to the vast majority of the world's inhabitants. We Canadians, even in challenging economic times, we have more “stuff” than we need.
This is a story of a man who is met by Jesus. Not only is he met by Jesus, but he is called by Jesus. Jesus tells him that the way to "eternal life" leads through discipleship. Did you get that? Jesus invites him to be a disciple. "Come, follow me," Jesus says.
So many had come and followed Jesus. All of the disciples, standing around witnessing this encounter, had left much and had followed Jesus. The journey had not been easy for any of them. Read your way through the gospel of Mark, and you will discover how tough it was for them to follow Jesus, a perilous way full of misunderstanding, risk, confusion, and difficulty.
Now, someone else is being met by Jesus, face-to-face; someone else is being asked to become a disciple. And after hearing how much it costs to be a disciple, the man slumps down and walks away sorrowfully.
The story, then, is about someone like us being met by Jesus and asked to follow, but who decides that it is not a way he wants to go. He walks away. This, as far as I know, is the only call story in all the gospels in which someone refuses to follow Jesus. A person like us is being invited to be a disciple of Jesus, and this person like us walks in the other direction--and let us relatively well-looked after North Americans take note--the reason was money.
Can we not sympathize with this man? We can certainly identify with his materialistic encumbrances. Like him, all of us have many possessions, more than we need to survive. We know how concern about all of our stuff tends to chain us to all that stuff. Yet more than that, don't we all know how risky a matter it can be to be met by Jesus? Can we blame this man for walking away rather than following?
Sometimes I think we in the church have made discipleship such a small, trivial thing, that we have made disbelief look dumb. I remember the old joke about the evangelist who, after preaching a long sermon, gave an altar call. "Come to the altar and give your life to Christ!" he said. Nobody came. In frustration, the evangelist said, "Come to the altar, as a way of saying that you love and honor God." Still nobody came. In even greater frustration, the evangelist appealed to the congregation, "Come to the altar as a way of saying that you want to live a better life." Nobody came. Finally, "Look, if you love your mother, come down to the altar. Okay?"
No, that action is not okay! Today's gospel reminds us that there are good, understandable, reasonable reasons for not following Jesus. Jesus is too often presented by us, from the best of motives, as the solution to all our problems, the way to fix everything that's wrong in our lives. But this story reminds us that Jesus is sometimes the beginning of problems we would never have had if we had not been met by Jesus!
The story is told that Clarence Jordan, a Southern, social prophet, visited an integrated church in the Deep South. Jordan was surprised to find a relatively large church so thoroughly integrated, not only black and white but also rich and poor; and this was in the early sixties, too. Jordan asked the old country preacher, "How did you get the church this way?"
"What way?" the preacher asked. Jordan went on to explain his surprise at finding a church so integrated, and in the Deep and divided South, too.
The preacher said, "Well, when our preacher left our small church, I went to the deacons and said, 'I'll be the preacher.' The first Sunday as preacher, I opened the book and read, 'As many of you as has been baptized into Jesus has put on Jesus and there is no longer any Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, males or females, because you all are one in Jesus.'
Then I closed the book and I said, 'If you are one with Jesus, you are one with all kind of folks. And if you’re not, well, you’re not.'"
Jordan asked what happened after that. "Well," the preacher said, "the deacons took me into the back room and they told me they didn't want to hear that kind of preaching anymore."
Jordan asked what he did then. "I fired them deacons," the preacher roared.
"Then what happened?" asked Jordan.
"Well," said the old hillbilly preacher, "I preached that church down to four. Not long after that, it started growing. And it grew. And I found out that revival sometimes don't mean bringin' people in but gettin' people out that dare to love Jesus."
But, you know, maybe I'm speaking too negatively here. Is there anyone out there who thinks that this story - in which Jesus seems so prickly, so difficult and demanding - is anybody out there who thinks this may be good news?
One night, with a group of senior youth in another parish, I presented this same story of Jesus and the rich man, just as I've presented it to you. I then asked the gathered students, "What do you make of this story?"
"Had Jesus ever met this man before?" asked one of the students.
"Why do you ask?" I asked.
"Because Jesus seems to have lots of faith in him. He demands something risky, radical of him. I wonder if Jesus knew this man had a gift for risky, radical response. In my experience, a teacher only demands the best from students that the teacher thinks are the smartest, best students. I wonder what there was about this man that made Jesus have so much faith he could really be a disciple."
Wow. Didn't think about that.
Another student said thoughtfully, "I wish Jesus would ask something like this of me. My parents totally control my life just because they are paying all my expenses. And I complain about them calling the shots, but I am so tied to all this stuff I don't think I could ever break free. But maybe Jesus thinks otherwise."
Well, I was astounded. What I had heard as severe, demanding BAD news, these students heard as gracious, GOOD news.
Jesus invites every one of us to be his disciples: divest! Break free! Let go of your stuff! Follow me! I believe you can do it! Such is the peril, and the promise of being met by Jesus!
The Dutch theologian, Henri Nouwen, who lived in the last century from 1932 to 1996 framed discipleship in these terms: I think they bear consideration by us today –
Did I offer peace today?
Did I bring a smile to someone’s face?
Did I say words of healing?
Did I let go of my anger and resentment?
Did I forgive?
Did I love?
These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow will bear many fruits, here in this world and in the life to come.
Almighty God, in our aptism you adopted us as your own. Quicken, we pray, you Spirit within us, that we being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and for ever. Amen. Amen
Then Job answered:
‘Today also my complaint is bitter;
his hand is heavy despite my groaning.
O that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what he would answer me,
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; but he would give heed to me.
There an upright person could reason with him,
and I should be acquitted for ever by my judge.
‘If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
If only I could vanish in darkness,
and thick darkness would cover my face!
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’
Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.The Holy Gospel
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?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 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; Honour your father and mother.” ’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 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.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
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!’ 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! 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.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ 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, 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. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’