Our gospel text for today is one of the classics. One that I imagine that many of you have heard time and time again. Much like the text last week and the weeks before, the words of Jesus do not rest easy. So often, we hear this text as simply being about those who hoard their money and possessions, selfishly keeping them to themselves. And how Jesus clearly states that it is nearly impossible for those who are rich to enter the kingdom of God, therefore those who are wealthy ought to share more so as to not fall into this category of the rich. Now, I am not saying that there are not those elements in the text. God does care about what we do with our money. But what I am wondering is if there isn’t something more in text than simply a rich man hoarding his things. And I imagine that if we are willing to face the text head on, explore it, and mine it for what its worth together, we might stumble upon something deeper within this story.
Right from the beginning, “As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to him and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” A journey to where? All we know is that he is out on some road. Where is Jesus going? I mean in all of Mark’s previous stories we are always told where Jesus is headed. He starts out in Galilee calling his disciples then he goes to Capernaum to heal a man possessed with a spirit. After that he goes back to Galilee for a preaching tour and then back again to Capernaum in order to get a paralytic up on his feet. Then he jumps on a boat headed across the sea of Galilee where he reveals his ability to control the weather, which leads him to the country of the Gerasenes where he sends evil spirits into a herd of pigs who go nuts and run off the edge of the cliff. From there he decides to have reunion at home in Nazareth only to be rejected and sent to Bethsaida where he decides to show of his aquatic skills by walking on water. He then goes way out of his way to Tyre where he crosses a woman from Syrophoenicia who gives him a piece of her mind. Heading back to Bethsaida Jesus cures the blind and tells about his impending death and resurrection. By chapter 9, Jesus heads up a mountain where he has the strange experience of having his clothes turn dazzling white and two dead guys show up in the clouds. From there, he comes down the mountain, passes through Galilee and Capernaum, heads into the region of Judea, over the river Jordan, through the woods, just past grandmother’s house, only now to find himself…on a road..
On a road with no name in place with no name. For the first time, we are given no indicators of where Jesus is or where he is going. And on this road to nowhere, he encounters man who is also on a road to nowhere. And we should be asking the question, what’s this man doing all the way out here in the middle of nowhere. Mark is telling us something by leaving out an indicators of where they are because this man is lost. Where is this man? Who knows, because he doesn’t even know. And he’s desperate to find himself.
I mean, he comes running up to Jesus, as if he hasn’t seen any human life for miles, and falls to his knees. And as the rocks burrow into his skin, he begs the question, “What must I do? What must I do to inherit eternal life? To experience something that is of God and worth living for?”
Now what this man is saying is actually quite profound because not only were the wealthy seen as the one’s with status and power, but they were seen as especially blessed by God. For all intents and purposes he should be thrilled that God has blessed him so. But I think he is getting suspicious that perhaps an experience of the divine does not come in the form of money, and if it does not come in the form of money and wealth, perhaps it never comes at all. This man is desperate for a taste of God’s presence in his life.
Perhaps not quite catching on to how dire the situation is, Jesus, like any good pious Jew, simply tells him to follow the commandments – you know, don’t kill, don’t steal, love your father and mother, all that stuff. With a little more desperation this time, the rich man replies, “But I have done that! All the days of my life, I have followed those commandments. You’ve got to give me something else!”
And just then, Jesus gets it. Jesus looks at him, and not with one of those angry condescending looks that says you’ve done something wrong. No, he looks at him with one of those looks that says, “Oh. Now I see what’s going on.” A look that piers right into this man’s soul sees a heart that is shattering. Shattering from the suspicion that life as he knows it is meaningless, because if he’s not experience God through his wealth or good deeds, then perhaps God is nowhere to be found at all.
And upon truly seeing this man for who he was, Jesus looks at him and loves him. Jesus loved him, because, I think, Jesus knew that this man’s deeper question –how can I find some sense of meaning (Hall 11); how can I see God active in my life? – is the question of every person. The psalmist from Psalm 13 prays, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” A man from Mark’s gospel confronts Jesus about his sick daughter, and he says, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Or as one of my professors once wrote, “I am not a very religious person. When peeled to the core, there lurks the conviction that I am always about one day away from abandoning the faith.” I don’t know about you, but I know that feeling. The feeling that you are just one day, one nightly news segment, or one ambulance siren away from unbelief.
Well, that is where this desperate rich man was. Looking over the edge of unfaith and about ready to jump. So, out of love, Jesus tells this man to go and sell all of his possessions and to give the money to the poor. And he says, “After you’ve done that, come and follow me. Come and be my disciple.” And the man goes away grieving. And grieving seems about right if you ask me. By calling him to be a disciple, Jesus asks him not simply for his possessions, Jesus asks him to give over his entire being, his entire self. His money, his status, and his power. I mean, Jesus is literally asking him to give up his life.
And grieving seems about right because even if that life was meaningless at least it was safe. With his money, this guy knew he would always have shelter and food on the table. So to do what Jesus asked would mean to give up his security, his safety net. But as we have seen the security of wealth couldn’t protect him from the death of meaninglessness, from the infectious fear that perhaps God is nowhere.
Jesus’ invitation was more than a move of showing justice and care to the poor, but it was a call to face those fears head on. “If you cannot find God, then, Come, follow me, we’ll go looking.” “If life feels meaningless, the come, follow me, we’ll look for what is meaningful.” All this so that this man can perhaps for the first time in his life begin to really trust in God. Trusting that God is active in his life, that God loves him. That every moment of every day God looks at him with love and says, “Come and follow me.”
And so it is for us. Jesus invites us into the scary and uncharted territories of God’s activity here and now. No, not so that we will get into heaven when we die. God has already claimed us as God’s own and so there is no need to worry about the afterlife. But so that we too can perhaps for the first time in our life begin to really trust in God. Trusting that God is active in us, that God loves us. That every moment of every day God looks at us with love and says, “Come and follow me.” And what does it mean to follow God but to love loving. To love God. To love your neighbors. To love your enemies. That is where one encounters God. Which is really hard because it means we have to lower the walls that protect us and step out, it means we have to give up our wealth and power to those who are poor and powerless, and it means we risk our very being.
Where was Jesus going? Or better yet, where is Jesus going? He is going out to find you. To call you by name to be a disciple. To be a witness and agent unto God’s will being done on earth as it has already been done in heaven. So that you might catch a glimpse of the God who is incarnate here in this world for the experience salvation now. So that perhaps for the first time you might begin to trust that God looks into your heart and loves you, and in response you might look into the hearts of others and love them. AMEN.