19th Sunday after Trinity
Mark 10 17-31
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.’
In the Film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy is searching for the Holy Grail, supposedly the cup Jesus used at the last supper.
Through obstacles that include Nazis and snakes, he finally makes his way into the presence of the Grail. But it’s hidden among dozens of false grails. Only by drinking from it can he find the true one. A drink from a false grail leads to instant death. Indiana Jones must choose wisely.
Of course, there is no Holy Grail in a cave somewhere. But there is a reason a film was made out of that idea. The entire world is looking for a fountain of youth, a Holy Grail, life eternal. And the world is full of deadly false hopes.
The gospel of Mark is something like The Last Crusade. There is a search, there are snakes, there are those who are lost and those who are found, and there is a man on a journey to find eternal life. And we meet him here in Mark 10. In fact, he appears in all three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Matthew tells us he’s young. Luke tells us he’s a ruler. All three tell us he’s rich, and show us this search for eternal life is an ancient one.
This man met Jesus face to face to ask about eternal life.
How does our culture describe the path to heaven? Listen to almost any funeral sermon and you come away thinking the only requirement to get to heaven is to die. All roads lead there. Everyone is going. Why? Because they were a good person. They did more good than bad. It doesn’t matter what they believed. Hell is only for really bad people. There is something innate within most of us that wants to soften the blow. Especially at a time of grief and sorrow.
But that is not what the Bible says. Jesus said it is not a wide path, it is a narrow one. Not a wide door or gate but a narrow one. We cannot make or pay our own way. We must follow God’s way, and his way is through faith and trust in Jesus. Enter the example of the rich young man searching for a way into heaven. He was like so many who came to Jesus, falling at his feet, begging for help. But this man came not for healing or deliverance but for a different reason. He has a question. ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus tells him by asking some questions. Do you know the commandments, the young man answers that he has obeyed them from his youth. Notice that Jesus doesn’t contradict him. He was a good man and that was his problem. He was trusting in his goodness, and he thought there was some other good he could do to inherit eternal life.
At this point Jesus tests his sincerity. ‘Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Go. Sell. Give. Come. Follow. Here is his path to eternal life. Can you imagine how he felt at this moment, he was a good man, he had obeyed the law but Jesus said that he lacked one thing. What thing?
What is the most important law/commandment, the man said that he had followed all his life? The first commandment – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Now it is crunch time for the young man. Jesus gives him the 5 steps to fulfil the first commandment Go. Sell. Give. Come. Follow. Then you will have eternal life because I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
Jesus laid out the path before him - and it is the same for us all. We come with nothing, in total dependence on God, like a child coming to his father, knowing he will provide. But he just couldn’t do it. It was too much for him. He was disheartened, sorrowful, grieved, because he had great possessions. He wanted life abundant but couldn’t part with the abundance in his life.
This can be quite a disturbing account for some if not all of us. It should be. It is a warning. Jesus looked at his disciples and said, ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words, surely money was a sign of God’s blessing? But this is not Jesus rejecting the wealthy, Jesus expands his comment. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God’ they were astonished and asked, ‘then who can be saved?’
A camel was the biggest animal in Israel. The eye of a needle was the smallest opening. Jesus is saying, you know what is absolutely impossible? A big camel fitting through a tiny hole, and what is even more impossible is trying to earn your way into heaven. Jesus clearly states that salvation is not something we can accomplish on our own, like the camel, no matter how hard we try, it is impossible to squeeze ourselves into heaven.
The disciples were nervous. Peter said ‘We have left everything and followed you.’ In other words, what about us, Jesus? Do we have eternal life? Jesus isn’t angry with Peter, he comforts him by saying. ‘There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.’
The promises of God always have both present and future implications. He doesn’t say, just wait, and you will get your reward one day in heaven. As I have said countless times – eternal life starts here and now. The other important lesson from this account is that we will receive in this life far more than we give up, but human nature has a hard time believing that.
It might be costly. It hurts to give things up now. When J. D. Rockefeller the Billionaire died someone asked ‘what did he leave?’ His Accountant answered ‘everything.’ The often quoted saying ‘there are no pockets in a shroud’ is wonderfully true. We cannot take it with us, but we can share it now.
The young man walked away grieving.
Of course this is not only about wealth, about giving away our money. It is about the thing(s) that we hold dear, the thing we are not willing to let go of. The thing that gets between God and us, the thing that steals our attention, and our time. More often than not these are quite legitimate things, and certainly not considered bad things. I am certain we could all name things that rob our time and relationship with God.
Before we end there is a little phrase that is vital to this account. Verse 21 ‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him.’ Did Jesus love him when he came in reverence, falling at his feet? Did he love him after he called him Good Teacher? Yes, Jesus loved him then, but that’s not when Mark mentions it. He mentions it after the man said he obeyed the law, when he was trying to earn his way to eternal life. Why then? Because Jesus loves us in our most vulnerable place. The very place where we are the farthest from God is the very place Jesus loves us the most. Nothing in this account tells us this young man was even aware of Jesus’ love for him. He thought God was waiting for him to achieve something else. But while he sought another road to earn eternal life, God had sent a Redeemer to give him heaven on earth. He had no idea how close he was to the Kingdom. Jesus was right there before him, full of love. All he had to do was follow, and eternal life would be his.
I am not going to end with a question – we all know in our hearts what our response needs to be this morning - Amen