Wealth and the Kingdom of God – March 17, 2019, the Second Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 58:5-9, Mark 10:17-31
March 17, 2019
In his ministry, Jesus often had to answer the critics. He had to answer those who would test him, who would question his teachings. He had to answer those who awould try to trap him in his words, to make him look bad in the eyes of the people – people who loved him!
Not this time! This man was sincere. He came to Jesus because he was truly looking for an assurance of eternal life. He fell to his knees, almost pleading for an answer. And isn’t that an assurance that everyone wants? And usually in seeking that assurance, people turn to “religion.”
Well, I think the interesting thing here is that this man had “tried religion!” Because look how Jesus answers him. “You know the commandments.” he said. And he named some of them. Essentially he was saying to the man, “Do what your faith requires.” And I think that’s a great response, because it helps this man define his search. Because we find that he had “been there, done that!” He said that. “I’ve kept the commandments.” “Since my childhood.” “I’ve done everything my religion requires.” But he was still searching!
So Jesus, who had the ability to look on people’s hearts, recognized the sincerity of this man. He saw that he was searching. He did care about his faith, and his God, or at least his eternal soul! And, as it says here, “Jesus loved him.” I think that singles him out from a lot of the other questioners. This guy was real! And Jesus wanted to help him! But in doing so, he recognized in this man the thing that was keeping him from seeing the kingdom. And that was his wealth.
Now the first thing I want you to see here, is that Jesus didn’t tell everyone to sell everything, and give to the poor. But he saw that need in this man. Because he saw that this man’s wealth was standing in the way. So he gave him that answer. And if we could add words before what Jesus said here, I believe they would be, “Ok! You asked!” or maybe, “Ok! Here’s the deal!”
As I said, Jesus didn’t tell everybody to sell everything. I’ve known wealthy people who were very devout, who lived their relationship with God every day, and who never let their wealth get in the way. They didn’t let wealth affect their “Kingdom standing.” That’s what this man was looking for. His “Kingdom standing.” I’ve also known people without wealth, yet who were “tight” with their money, who worried about it all the time, and for whom even what they had was a great obstacle to their faith. So this isn’t about having wealth, it’s about how you deal with it. It isn’t about us possessing wealth, it’s about the potential for wealth to possess us!
And by the way, before you assign that word “wealthy” to “someone else,” know that we are all the “wealthy of the world.” You may not feel that sometimes when the bills arrive and you feel like everyone has got a hand in your pocket. But to literally millions of people in this world, you are wealthy beyond their wildest dreams! So this isn’t a lesson about someone else. We need to ask ourselves if our wealth stands in the way of the kingdom! And that can be a hard question – and a good question for this Lenten season!
Think again about this man? Why did he ask Jesus the question? Did he know Jesus was going to “challenge him” in such a life altering way? Was he hoping for another answer? Was he hoping Jesus would tell him something more he could do in his faith? I wonder. When we ask God what he wants us to do, do we really want to know?!
I love the story of the man who fell over the cliff and managed to catch hold of that one branch sticking out from the side. I think I’ve told this one before, but it’s a good one! The man is hanging there in space, and he cries out, “Help! Help!” And a voice from above says, “This is God. I will help you.” “But you must trust me. Let go of the branch.” And the man looks down at the empty space below his feet, and he shouts back, “Is there anybody else up there?”
Are we always sure we want to hear what God has to say? I believe it was Carl Marx who said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Could it be that he was right in a way? I’m not saying that I espouse the teachings of Marx, or echo his cynicism of religion. Hey, I’m a man of religion! But could religion sometimes be the thing that gives us “comfort,” rather than taking the difficult steps of faith that we might be called to take? Do we sometimes “retreat” into our “beliefs,” rather than seeking the “difficult guidance” that God himself would give us?
I think we have to be careful with the words “Comfort” and “Peace.” They’re not always the same thing. I believe we can have God’s peace no matter what the circumstances – difficult or not. But sometimes “comfort” causes us to sit back and do little in our life of faith. Perhaps we should remember that it has been said of Jesus that “he came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Is that not true?
What about us? Do we sometimes see “religion” as our “solution?” You know, if we “believe just the right things, everything will be ok.” Do we sometimes turn to “religion” because that’s the easiest solution! And do we need to remember – again – that it’s often the actions of our faith, like Jesus called this man to this day, that are the hardest. But the most important!
As I said, too often, the way we seek our assurance of eternal life is to look to religion. But our assurance of eternal life, like this man was wanting, is not about religion, it’s about Jesus. Our “religion” is the thing that points us to Jesus. And our religion is very important, mind you. But it can never be a thing unto itself. It must point us to Jesus! That’s it’s job! That relationship with God is the most important thing! It’s not just about what we believe. It’s about Jesus. He is our peace. He is our assurance.
So, think about this man who came to Jesus that day. What was he seeking? Did he find his answer. What about the wealth that stood in his way? But this is about more than just wealth and our faith. It’s about how we have the assurance this man was looking for? Do we know assurance in Jesus?
Eternal God, we thank you for your great love for us, so great that you came to live among us, that you came to seek us, and that you still seek us. As we continue along this “race of life” help us to do so “looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.” Help us to seek our assurance in him. For we pray in his name, Amen.