Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 7:6-9, Mark 10:17-22
May 20, 2012
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s what the man asked Jesus in our story. Now, one might think that was just a doctrinal question. This might have been a person who was checking out this “Jesus guy” to see if he was correct and orthodox in his views. They did that a lot, you know. Also, there was an ongoing debate between the Pharisees and the Sadducees concerning the “afterlife.” So this man may have been trying to find out which side Jesus was on. Those could be the reasons for this question. But I’m not so sure.
At the end of this encounter, the man “went away sorrowful.” And the more I read this, the more that becomes the operative line. The more I read this, the more I see a man searching, concerned with the question of eternity and the state of his eternal soul. The more I think about this, the more this man’s question becomes the question of all people. “Will I really live for ever, and how will that look?” “Or will my perception of the universe simply fade to black?”
That’s it, isn’t it! That’s the big question. And everybody deals with that question sooner or later. And I have to say that there are many people in many churches who are there for the sole reason of answering that question. They know this life is short, and they don’t want to blow their chances for the next. They want to know “what they must do to inherit eternal life.”
Well, at first, Jesus gives this man the answer to that question. He gives him the “doctrinal response.” Jesus understood what was going on here. He knew that the man was trying to “cover his bases.” In fact, it’s interesting that in Matthew’s telling of this story, the man asks a more specific question. There he asks, “What good deed must I do to inherit eternal life?”
So Jesus starts his answer in an academic way. He starts by quoting the commandments. The man wants to hear “requirements,” so Jesus gives him requirements. But then there’s a change. After a brief exchange, Jesus switches the direction of the conversation to focus in on what really matters. It says in verse 21 “and Jesus looking on him, loved him.” I believe Mark is trying to show us that switch! He is trying to show us that Jesus turned the conversation to get to the heart of the matter. And the heart of the matter – is the heart! Jesus often did that. He sidestepped the questions of religion and practice, and focused on the heart.
You see, the question here isn’t about commandments. It’s not ever really about riches. I don’t think Jesus was really all that concerned about wealth. Think about the time Judas complained about the woman’s perfume that could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus told him, The poor you will always have. But you won’t always have me.” “You need to focus on your relationship with me and with God.” That’s what was important to Jesus. Another time when someone was trying to get specific with him about money and taxes, he said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars… But render to God the things that are God’s.” That’s the important part of that statement!
I don’t think Jesus is nearly as concerned about wealth, as he is about what our wealth does to us. Think about it. Jesus doesn’t tell everyone to sell everything. In this story, he says to this man, “You lack one thing.” He knew what was in the man’s heart. He knew very specifically what he needed. And the question wasn’t about riches. It was about the way the man’s riches were standing in his way!
Isn’t that the real question? You see, there’s a difference between being involved with the world’s riches and being possessed by the world’s riches. There’s a difference between owning things and being owned by them. There’s a difference between “selling things” and “selling out!” That’s what we’re talking about today.
And I ask you. Does that ever happen to us? If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll realize it does! We are rich in comparison to many people in this world! But even if we’re not, what riches we have can still get in the way of our seeing God. I’ve said before, I’ve known rich people who were not possessed by their riches, and I’ve known poor people who absolutely were! (So if you’re not so wealthy, you’re not off the hook here!)
So the problem here is that this man had “sold out.” And Jesus knew that. Because of that he wasn’t able to be in relationship with God. And I think it’s very interesting that in the end he “walked away from Jesus.” How many people in our world have “walked away from Jesus?” They walk away, because other things in their lives are more important to them. They walk away because they don’t like what they think Jesus is demanding of them. Is that you?
The sad part of that is that it misses the point! Jesus wants to be in relationship with us. That’s the most important thing here! Jesus doesn’t want to rule us and to regulate our lives with a bunch of rules and commandments. That’s where he started with this man. And certainly those kinds of things have their place. Don’t get me wrong. But like the man in this story, the most important thing is that Jesus loves us. Jesus wants to share this life with us. He wants to be in a joyful, close, relationship with us. That’s what he wants for us. And the rules and commandments only serve that relationship, not the other way around!
So I ask again. “Do things stand in your way of being in that relationship with Jesus?” It’s far too easy for that to happen in our world, isn’t it? The lure of things is all around us. Advertizing blazes at us from billboards, many of which are now giant computerized screens. The siren song comes to us in the mail, and from our radios. And it’s a huge part of what comes out of our TV sets! It scares me that the programs on TV are there because they sell us the products advertized! Make no mistake. TV is primarily an advertizing media!!
That’s the backdrop of the world in which we live. We are inundated by the lure of things. We are saturated by ads. We hear the siren song all day long. If we don’t pay attention to it, and put all that in proper perspective, we’ll get sucked into it, and before long, we’re “selling out” to it! And then, when Jesus shows us that there’s something more, something beyond all of that, we just might walk away!
I have to tell you, when this man walked away, there was more than one person at that moment who was sad. I believe Jesus was very sad, too! Thankfully, we do have his words at that moment. All the Gospel writers record them. He turned to the crowd and said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Some have said that Jesus was referring to a gate in Jerusalem called “The Needle’s Eye.” That was supposedly a place where a person had to take all the burdens off of a camel before it would fit through the opening. They’ve said that’s a metaphor for “unburdening our lives in order to make it into the kingdom.” But I think it’s more than that. I think it means realizing how important that kingdom really is, and then unburdening our hearts with the things that bog us down spiritually. And mind you, not necessarily getting rid of them, but realizing how they are influencing us and concentrating on seeking first that kingdom.
So I want you to think about this man today. He’s not all that different from any one of us. What must we do to inherit eternal life? Look to Jesus. Know that it’s not a set of commandments that’s at the heart of the Gospel. It’s the heart of God!! And he wants to be with us. He wants to be part of our lives. Eternal life, as I said a few weeks ago, starts in this life! We are in it now! So, concentrate on living in relationship with God. Seek to know his love, his grace, and his glory!
Eternal God, you love us beyond what we are capable of imagining. Help us to know that we are your chosen and beloved children. Help us to live in the joy of your kingdom, now and in the life everlasting. For this we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.