Jesus looking at him, love him and said to him, “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.” “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.”
Well, none of us are naked. Our parking lot is filled with cars. Which just goes to show…none of us takes Jesus’ words here very seriously, do we? A couple of weeks ago, Jesus wanted your hands and your feet. Last week, he wanted your marriages. This week, he wants your money. So grab onto your wallets and your purses, everybody. They aren’t safe here.
Now, when I first arrived a little over a year ago, one of the first things someone said to me was, “Whatever you do, don’t preach about money. If you do, we won’t want to give any.” Being that money is one of the things Jesus talks about the most in his ministry, my hands are a little tied, aren’t they? If we are to be Jesus-people, then it seems we need to talk about money. But I will make you a promise: I will not ask for any of your money today.
Growing up as the son of a doctor, my family was in need of nothing. And yet, I can remember being made fun of and teased at school for being the rich kid. Oh woe is me. I know, I know. It’s a small price to pay for having everything you want. But then along comes Jesus and this story, and it seems like being rich is actually a bad thing. I can remember wondering – did having money make us bad people? 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, Jesus said. So, were we going to hell?
It was a hard text to hear back then. And it is still hard to hear today. Even though Lauren and I are in a vastly different financial situation, we are still quite rich. Because I once heard the statistic that if there is one tv in your neighborhood, you are among the top 5% richest people in the world. Which means you might be considered rich too.
Because of this, over the years, we’ve made this story softer on the ears. I have heard it said that Jesus doesn’t really want you to go and sell all of your stuff, he just wants you to appreciate it more. Just show your parents a little more gratitude when they buy you that Xbox 360 game. Just say a longer prayer before dinner. Jesus doesn’t really mean what he says.
There is a story about a well-know preacher, Will Willimon, who received a panicky phone call on Monday morning from a parishioner. The man said that his daughter Anne had just decided to drop out of pharmacy school. She had just come home for the weekend and, in fact, she had been to church just that Sunday. Everyone was shocked by her decision and so they ask the preacher to give her a call and “talk some sense into her.”
So he did. He called up Anne and reminded her about how hard she had worked to get to where she was and that she couldn’t just throw it all away. “What inspired this decision anyways?” he asked. “Well, it was your sermon,” she said.
She talked about how she realized she was only in school to meet her own selfish needs and his sermon on God calling all of us to do something important in this life shook something loose in her. She remembered how much joy she had in teaching migrant workers how to read one summer through a church program. She felt close to God then, and now she is leaving school because she wants to spend her life helping those people. “Now look, Anne,” the preacher said, “It was just a sermon…”
“Go and sell all of your things and give them to the poor,” Jesus said. Does Jesus really mean this…or is it just a sermon?
Others have said that this text isn’t about how much money you have. Not really. Instead, it is simply about how there is nothing you can do to earn your way into heaven. That we are all dependent on God’s mercy to save us and bring us into eternal life. Rich or not, we are all sinners and in need of God’s forgiveness and grace. We just need to remember that. Maybe that is what this text is all about.
When I was at seminary, everyday, parked in the parking lot was a big, bright, shiny white SUV. On the back was a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t let the car fool you. My treasure is in heaven.” Ahh yes, as long as you know your true treasure is in heaven, as long as you know that you are saved by God’s grace, what’s wrong with having a couple of treasures here on earth?
I like these understandings of this text – that I just need to appreciate my stuff more and that I just need to remember that I am saved by grace, because when I think about the text in these ways, my money never enters the picture at all. But what if this story actually is about money. Our money. And it’s ability to make us sick.
This rich man runs up to Jesus, kneels before him and ask, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In the gospel of Mark, just about everyone who kneels before Jesus is sick and in need of healing. The Leper kneels before Jesus asking to be healed. Jairus, whose daughter is dying, kneels before Jesus. The woman who is hemorrhaging, kneels before Jesus. And now this rich man, who has followed all the laws and wants for nothing, kneels before Jesus. Which means, this rich man is sick. Heart sick. And in need of healing. He, along with every lottery winner, has learned that having all the money in the world doesn’t solve your problems. Maybe he has learned that you can lose yourself in making sure you are the smartest, or the most beautiful, or the one with the most toys. This man is lost and desperate – he realizes something is missing – he is not well in his soul and so this man comes to Jesus in order to be healed.
And Jesus looked at the man and loved him. But maybe this man couldn’t receive this love because he was already carrying so much. All of his stuff. And sometimes, you can’t accept what’s being given to you unless you let go of what you already have. People who are recovering from addiction often say that they have to let go of the friends they already have, in order to find the friends that they need.
So Jesus asked this man to open up his hands and give everything he has to the poor. Jesus must have known the same thing that recent studies are showing. The only way money makes any of us happy is when we give it away. But the man walks away shocked and grieving, because he had many possessions. Was the man healed of his sickness? Did he do what Jesus said to do? I guess we will never know.
I don’t know if your money has the ability to make you sick. I don’t know if you are longing for something more. And maybe to most of you, this doesn’t sound like good news. This idea that Jesus has his eye on our wallets and pocketbooks, looking at and watching what we do with them. But maybe, just maybe, the sheer fact that Jesus is looking at us at all is the good news. Maybe what it says it that God actually cares about this life. Your life. And God actually cares about what you do with it. Which means what you do matters. And what you do with your money matters. It matters to God and it matters to the world. Remember that this week each time you hand over cash or credit card to buy something. Not because God looks upon you as a judge, but because God looks at you, and loves you. Wishing for you not good behavior and a hefty bank account. But a whole heart. And a full life.
I promised that I would not ask for your money today. And it’s true, I won’t. In fact, I want to give you money. Well, two of you at least. I need two brave volunteers who can be at church next week. Each of you get a $20 bill. And now, you have an assignment. Go and use this money to gift something, anything, to a stranger who just might need it. Maybe you pay for a stranger’s meal at a restaurant or maybe you leave it in an anonymous note to your neighbor, telling them how much someone cares about them. Maybe you buy a pop at Perkins and you leave it as a tip. But it must be given to a person (not a campaign or a fundraiser) and it must be a stranger. Why? Because it reminds us that it doesn’t matter who they are, or what they have done in their life to either deserve this or not deserve this…no matter what, they are worth something to God. And so are you. Amen.