McFarland

20th Sunday after Pentecost October 10, 2021

Readings

First Reading: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90:12-17
Second Reading: Hebrews 4:12-16
Gospel: Mark 10:17-31

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith, that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead, we may follow the way of your commandments and receive the crown of everlasting joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home, lookup the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

God of Grace and God of Glory – ELW #705
Son of God Eternal Savior – ELW #655
Let Justice Flow Like Streams – ELW #717
O God, Our Help in Ages Past – ELW #632

Reflection on Mark 10:17-31

by Pastor Kelli Schmit

When you’re out of the pulpit for eight weeks, this is not the story you want when you return…but here we are.  The lectionary fates have served up a story of a man running to Jesus, out of breath with urgency and desperation, and kneeling at his feet begging for the recipe or secret code for eternal life.

He is a truly devout and pious man, a respected member of the local religious community.  He obeys the commandments – and has for years – but he is still unsure of where he stands.  He yearns for a deeper relationship with God.  He wants something more.  He asks what he must do – what ritual he must perform, what prayer he must offer, what task he must accomplish – to feel comfortable and safe in this relationship.  Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions and donate the profits.

This must have been surprising for all in earshot because, as Dr. Matt Skinner teaches, “In Jesus’ context […] many people viewed the wealthy as specially blessed by God.  The disciples call attention to this […] when they gasp, ‘Then who can be saved?’”[1]  Instead of adding a ritual or prayer to his life, he is to subtract everything.  He is to excise the precise thing that is interpreted as a divine blessing.  In addition to it being a symbol of how much favor God has found in him, these riches also carried influence, social capital, and power within his community.  To give it all away would be to move down many – if not all – rungs on the social ladder.[2]  It would mean that others would now have power over him.

With this directive the man walks away grieving.  We don’t hear from the man later in the Gospel but it seems as if Jesus’ instructions were too much.  It was too big of an ask.  Giving away all his possessions – all his power and his established reputation – it is something he just cannot do.

But this conversation between Jesus and the man is about more than just giving away money; it’s about discipleship.  This is a call story.  Jesus even says to the man, “give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (v21)[3]  Come.  Follow me

Part of being a disciple – a follower of Christ – is being of helpful service to the poor, lonely, ill, grieving, outcast, and brokenhearted.  In the words of Dr. Skinner, “Jesus calls for more than a change in the man’s bottom line and more than a permanent relinquishment of his acquisitions; he tells him to change his relationship to the poor – to help them, to identify with them.”[4]

Discipleship is a verb.  It is what God calls us to do – to align ourselves with those who are living in poverty and who are just barely getting by, to silence our own voice to make room for and elevate the voices that are not listened to or taken seriously, to relinquish our power so it can be experienced by someone else.

With a challenging story like this one it is easy to point fingers.  We can’t be the wealthy man in the story, right?  We’re not that guy.  We’re not civilian astronauts taking space flights on our own space agency rockets.  Jesus is talking about those guys, not us…right?

I’m sorry to say it, but Jesus isn’t only talking to the ultra-wealthy.  He’s talking to us.  To you and to me.  And our instinctual rush to point to someone else reveals how deep this story cuts.  On some level, this rush to disassociate ourselves from the wealthy man reveals that we know we are in his shoes.  But Jesus doesn’t mince his words or let us off the hook that easily.  Jesus wants us to live more fully and deeply in the kingdom of God here and now…and that includes elevating others even if that means we get knocked down a social peg or two.

This is not an easy task.  We don’t want to open ourselves up to see the brokenness in the world.  We’d rather not acknowledge those who are suffering, hurting, and being dragged down by the weight of daily life.  We look away so we don’t have to empathize with their pain, or consider how we might play a part in their struggle, or think about how we could help…it might require too much of us.  The man in our story today did a cost/benefit analysis with Jesus’ instructions and the result was that it cost him too much and he didn’t think it benefited him enough.

So our default mode is to ignore those living in poverty, but we also don’t want to give up what keeps us buffered from their reality.  Power, influence, and social capital – these are tasty treats.  No one wants to give them up, especially when they’re seen by the community as divine blessing.

With a story this heavy and messy and frankly depressing, it’s easy for one small – but hugely important – detail to slip by.  Before instructing the man to sell all his possessions the gospel writer tells us, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” (v21) Jesus loved him.  It is the only time in this gospel where we explicitly learn that Jesus loves someone.[5]  The man’s vast wealth didn’t mean he was an inherently evil, terrible person.  He was a pious, devout man earnestly seeking a deeper relationship with God…but the ask was too much.

We talked earlier about how this is a call story.  It is an interesting call story in that the call goes unanswered.  The man walks away, and Jesus still loves him.  If Jesus loves him before instructing him to sell his possessions, I have a hard time believing that Jesus would swiftly change his mind when the man wasn’t up to the task.  Jesus is not so fickle when humans act like humans.  So Jesus loves the man and he even loves the man as he walks away.

This is the part that really stands out for me.  This story isn’t one of success but of failure.  I love this aspect of the story because it’s real.  The Bible would be hideously boring and completely unrelatable if we only heard about giants of the faith reigning victorious over every obstacle placed in front of them.  How unattainable and, therefore, completely uninspiring.  Perfection is not in me and it’s not in this story.  I stumble and fall and miss the mark and pretend I don’t hear when God calls me to follow somewhere I don’t want to go.

Instead, our scriptures are filled with stories of humans being human, and God’s love for them, God’s challenge to them, and God’s movement with them through the beautiful and the hard moments.  Hearing that someone thoroughly falls short and instead of answering the call and following, walks the opposite direction, and yet Jesus loves him…that gives me hope.  That offers a glimpse of how big God’s grace truly is.  We’re not off the hook, mind you, the call to align ourselves and identify with the poor is still before us, but we’re not completely written off either.

This failed call story emphasizes the unavoidably interconnected nature of discipleship, the costliness of discipleship, and the way Jesus’ love doesn’t stop even when we choose a path other than discipleship.  This kind of discipleship brings transformation and transformation is hard.  Change and unknowns are hard.  Not knowing what is going to happen in the future is hard.  Being called to grow and stretch and move beyond what is comfortable and safe is hard…and Jesus loves us through hard things.

Jesus loves us and our earnest questions, our yearnings, and our striving for more.  Jesus loves us and our deepening relationships, our devotion, and our rising to the challenge.  And Jesus loves us and our grief when the ask feels too big, our inability to take that step, and our refusal to see because we’re afraid it will hurt too much, afraid it will require too much.

This is a story that is hard.  It’s one I’d prefer to avoid and ignore and pretend doesn’t exist.  It’s tempting to take some pithy, unimpressive, boring, or inaccurate interpretation to water it down and make it digestible, but that wouldn’t be true to the text.  A text that shows a man walking away grieving, and walking away grieving is real.  It’s just as real as Jesus’ love for us during the moments when we rise to the occasion and just as real as Jesus’ love for us during the moments when we fall short and walk away.  Thanks be to God.

Amen.

[1] Matt Skinner, “Preach This Week, October 11, 2009, Gospel Reading, Commentary on Mark 10:17-31,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-28-2/commentary-on-mark-1017-31-4 (accessed October 6, 2021).
[2] Matt Skinner from: Working Preacher, “Brainwave 805: 20th Sunday after Pentecost (Ord. 28B) – Oct. 10, 2021,” October 3, 2021, video, 27:52, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qI8fPyWQn2k.
[3] Skinner.  Preach This Week.
[4] Skinner.  Preach This Week.
[5] Karoline Lewis from: Working Preacher, “Brainwave 805: 20th Sunday after Pentecost (Ord. 28B) – Oct. 10, 2021,” October 3, 2021, video, 27:52, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qI8fPyWQn2k.

Let Us Pray

God of life, you call us to follow you.  Give us strength and confidence to answer that call.  Help us acknowledge what is difficult to see and grant us the conviction and courage to act with the intention of serving others.  Be with all who are suffering in mind, body, or spirit.  Reveal to us the ways and places we may share your love with others.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.