Mark 10:17-27 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; Honor 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.”
"The devil was on the prowl one day out to get the Christian. When he saw the Christian he shot one of his fiery darts and it struck the Christian in the chest. The Christian had on the breastplate of righteousness so he wasn’t harmed. The devil shot at the Christian’s head but that was protected by the helmet of salvation. The devil figured everyone has an Achilles’ heel, so he shot at the Christian’s feet that were shod with the gospel of peace so no harm was done. The Christian smirked and turned around to walk away. The devil fired an arrow into the Christian’s wallet and killed him."[i]
Most of us have a love/hate relationship with our money. We love having enough of it... but on some level, we hate it, that is, we wish we could live without it. Even the man in our story walked away grieved. But it sure is better to have it than to not have it. There is an old quote attributed to everyone from Mae West to Frank Sinatra- "I've been poor and I've been rich.... rich is better" We laugh about it- we get shamed by it- but we can't seem to get enough of it. And as Christians, it's interesting that we don't like talking about it- because Jesus talked about it a lot! Almost 40% or his teachings were about socio economics- 40%!
And while we are ok talking about giving to the poor- we are even ok (in some circles) with the redistribution of wealth... to the right people. We often think, 'maybe I can do with (a little) less so others can have more... that seems to work... well, if they work for it of course. I certainly don't want to give my money to a lazy person or someone who is going to spend it on something stupid and not good for them. I've worked hard for my money, so I want to make sure, (in my benevolence) that it is put to "good use" by whomever I deem worthy enough to give it to... "teach a man to fish" and all that.'
And you might argue... 'Well what's the alternative? Support them forever?'
Well, we'll come back to that one- lets look at the story-
Jesus is getting ready to go on a trip- and he's got all his stuff together and has just walked out the doorway when a man runs up and kneels before him, breathless... "Wait... Jesus wait! Good Teacher, what do I have to do to inherit eternal life? Tell me... what I have to do to have it all!” Jesus looks at the man kneeling before him and after a moment says, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments..." and then he goes on to list them- You shall not murder; (check) You shall not commit adultery; (I remember that one.. didn't do it) You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; (yes yes...) You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’(wait... what was that?)
You shall not defraud? I don't remember that one in the ten commandments, do you? was that in a later version?
But the man doesn't flinch- he's apparently familiar with it, and in reality, feels pretty good about himself in that area... and replies, "Yes yes, Jesus, I've kept all these laws- from the time I was a little kid I've done all of it! My mom raised me up right! I'm a good person... But there's something missing-something that isn't quite right- I want to have a eternal life (Translation: rich full life in community-peace making, shalom building kind of life) and it's escaping me somehow..."
And Jesus knows exactly what the man is talking about- and he looks straight at him and the text says, "he loved him." And no lie, we could stop right there couldn't we? Because in the end, that's what it's all about; that despite everything we think about ourselves- good or bad- and despite how much further we have to go- despite the things that God sees in or about us that may need a complete overhaul- God loves... doesn't that make you feel great?
But we're not stopping there- sorry...
Jesus puts his hand lovingly on the man's shoulder, smiles, and says, “You lack one little thing..."
And the man is so excited... "only one thing! Wooo hooo! I can do this! Tell me Jesus- tell me!" Jesus continues, "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.
And I know this is the part where I am supposed to tell you that he had his priorities mixed up- and that he had placed more value on things than he did on following Christ. Maybe so- or maybe, he was just being honest. How does one live in our society without money?
In fact, lets go back to that extra commandment Jesus threw in-thou shalt not defraud... how do we live in the world that functions according to a system where wealth is gained at the expense of, and often on the backs of, others? How do we stand in solidarity with the poor without putting ourselves in the same needy position? Do we not have to keep some wealth? Some power? Some way to win friends and influence people?
Is it any wonder the man walked away mourning and sad...
And as he walks away, Jesus looks around at his disciples, who, at this point must have been feeling confused on the one hand, but pretty good on the other... after all, they had made it to the following Christ part- so maybe they were not like the man after all... but then Jesus says “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
Now they are confused 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.”
And I believe things clicked at that moment for the disciples-they got it... they realized this is about more than just not driving a fancy car or having a million dollars in the bank- this is about them- all of them-all of us- and the systems that we feed that are sustained on the backs of the least of these... systems we participate in willingly that, most of the time, we don't even think about-
But if we really thought about it, if most of us checked our driveway, we would see more than few "camels" lined up out there that we try very hard to shrink to fit our own lifestyle... and I'm not sure how to get along without them. For instance- I'm going to go get some food for the food bank- that's a great thing- so I get outside, push the big camel on my porch back inside the front door and lock up my five bedroom house with the widescreen TV and every electronic gadget known to man, and I get into my car and go fill it up with gasoline... I have to right? Because how would I get there... and I know that the oil is overpriced and that we get it at the expense of war, and that a lot of people lost their lives and have shed blood to get it here- but I buckle that camel into the seat belt next to me and we drive to the store. I want the best prices of course- this way I can maximize the amount of stuff I purchase and so I navigate past the camels walking around the parking lot of the local stuff mart- and I know that by shopping there I might also be supporting some commercial/factory farms and institutions that employ people at slave wages and maybe mistreat an animal or two- but I need to help feed maximum people for minimum price so I climb over that camel at the checkout and put the stuff in the handy plastic bags they have waiting for me. (I would have brought the reusable cloth ones from my house that I bought in the hopes of saving the planet, but I forgot. I can't be perfect!) I finally get in my car- gosh it's hot- so I crank up the AC... cause I can... (that's not a luxury is it?) And I am in a rush-so I hit the drive thru and get a McBurger... I don't think about the acres of rainforest that was cut down to make more cattle grazing room for the fast food industry- I'm hungry! And the best part? I paid for the whole thing with a credit card! I'm glad I customized mine with the picture of the camel on the front... I don't even have to think about paying for this lunch till next month when the bill comes.
Do I need to go on? And i haven't gotten to any governmental or, educational or financial systems... but I know most of the marginalized get spit on from those camels too... and most of the rest of us do little but walk around those camels, like we walk around all the systems we participate in.
Is it any wonder the disciples were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?"
Because no kidding, unless you are in a tribe in some third world country- it seems like we all are guilty of participating in some way shape or form in the very systems Jesus talked against. The very systems that ultimately tried to silence Jesus by crucifying him.... So, for those of us wanting to follow the teachings of "The Way"... for those of us who have professed that we've given our lives to Christ... but who live in one of the wealthiest areas of the world-where does that leave us? Is there hope?
Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
Well praise God! Cause seriously, I was about to walk away greatly grieved. Yet at the same time, knowing that "for mortals it is impossible- and for God nothing is impossible" does not relieve my (our) responsibility in any of this.
What Jesus showed us in this story is twofold: first, he raised our awareness... from now on things will be different and perhaps we will be more conscious of camels growing fatter and our voluntary feeding of them...
But the second thing Jesus did is to give us hope- yes-things are too big for us to handle on our own. Yes, many of us aren't handling our money and resources the way we could or should, or the planet the way we should, or bucking the system as we should- and although we may see that needle's eye looming in the distance... God still looks at us, knowing all of it, and somehow... loves us... Praise God that we are heading toward the eye of the needle holding the hand of Christ! And I believe with my whole heart that if we allow ourselves to be led by him- he will show us the God-possible way to squeeze through.