Wednesday, January 25, 2012

“Give to the Poor”

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 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. (Mark 10: 17-22)
In this passage we see a man coming to Jesus and asking a critical and personal theological question.  He appears to be an upstanding member of the community, apparently of good character and extensive means.  Had this person asked of us the question he asked of Jesus, we would have wasted no time mapping the road to eternity and assuring him that he was a perfect fit for our congregation.  We can only imagine how eagerly the disciples anticipated Jesus’ winning invitation to this wealthy landowner to join their fledgling band of followers.
Methodically, Jesus dismantles all such imaginings.  Not only does he fail to win the rich man for the Kingdom of God, Jesus almost seems intent on driving him away. Rather than focusing on all the things which might qualify this man for membership in the Kingdom, Jesus probes for the one thing which disqualifies him.
At several levels, we find ourselves in this story.  Like the man who came to Jesus, we too have many possessions.  In a world where nearly half of humanity exists on less than two dollars a day, most of us are blessed by relative degrees of wealth.  While we can always find people who have more, we can find many more people who have much less.
Like the disciples, we are misled by the association of wealth and righteousness.  Conventional wisdom connected material prosperity and God’s blessing, and this convention fueled the disciples’ dismay over the rich man’s abrupt departure.  They reasoned, “If this upstanding, prosperous brother doesn’t qualify for the Kingdom of God, who does?” While the disciples seemed ready to take the rich man’s profession of obedience to the commandments at face value, Jesus puts him to the test.  The story challenges easy associations between wealth and righteousness and conversely, easy associations between poverty and unrighteousness.
We are left with the raw emotions which plague both the rich man and the disciples; they are shocked, grieved, and astounded.  What do we do with our wealth?  Does our wealth inevitably drive a wedge between us and the Kingdom of God?  Whether the rich man defrauded others to acquire his wealth or not, these questions still haunt us.  We worry that Jesus demands more than we can deliver, that any one of us thrust into the rich man’s predicament would also feel compelled to walk away.
Like the disciples, we hang onto the story’s closing line: “for God all things are possible.”  For God alone is able to deliver us from being possessed by our possessions.  God alone is able to disabuse us of the illusions that we actually own our possessions and that we deserve to have them.  God alone is able to convince us to live more simply so that others may simply live and to share freely the bounty which has been entrusted to us.  God alone is able to direct our stewardship of wealth to its rightful end: the service of justice and mercy.

God grant us the freedom, grace, and power to release what we do not own and to share what is God’s alone with God’s children who are in need.  Then we can stop walking away from Jesus and embrace his blessing:

A special offering for world hunger relief will be received this Sunday, January 29th.

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