Sunday, October 14, 2018

Let's Thread that Needle - Mark 10:17-31

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…ok let’s thread this needle

Today’s Gospel story is one rich in tradition.  It has been taught and preached and interpreted for centuries. I believe Jesus meant, if you can, give up everything and follow him.  Jesus means for us to be spiritually poor or “poor in spirit”.  Jesus literally meant give up everything and if you can’t… well that’s why the catholic church invented the indulgence…
“Often the Bible acts as a mirror, throwing back to us reflections of ourselves or of our culture in the characters and conversations on the page. The questions asked, the attitudes exposed, the priorities held seem amazingly modern. Certainly, this is the case with the figure traditionally called the rich young ruler (though Mark does not indicate that he was either young or a ruler). He could easily be dressed in contemporary garb and re-presented as a product of a mainline Protestant church. His religious heritage, his prosperity, and his sincerity are admirable qualities. It is interesting to observe the contrast between his noteworthy traits and the little children in the previous story, who come to Jesus as people without rights and recognition (compare Mark 10:13- 16).”[1]
This has become a story of the poor, this has become a story of the rich, this is rarely seen as the story of the loved…
“The rich man has to be taken at face value and not made into a proud, self-righteous caricature. In coming, he kneels before Jesus and raises an existential question. When Jesus asks him about the commandments, his answer ("I have kept all these since my youth") is straightforward and need not be taken as an arrogant or presumptuous reply. In no way does Jesus' treatment of the man challenge or mock his integrity.
The key is 10:21: "Jesus, looking at him, loved him." Seeing him clear through, Jesus does not rebuke or discipline him, but loves him. It is more than admiration or respect or sentimentality. It is the gut-wrenching concern one has for a loved one about to take his own life. All that is important in a moment like that is to get the gun out of his hands and help him discover a reason to live. "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." Whole­ hearted discipleship cannot take place until the ties to the man's possessions are broken, ties so intense and so enslaving that he can only hang his head and walk away grieving.”[2]
It is interesting, at least to me, when I look at this line “Jesus looked at him, loved him and said…” I often thought of Jesus as having the kind of love that is said in my head “oh bless your heart, you actually believe that this list of do’s is all there is…aren’t you sweet” well …I stand corrected.
I also just going to throw this question out there why do we assume he is rich?  Maybe he is sad because he feels he has nothing to sell or give.
One commentator sees it this way “: Mark says that “Jesus loved him” (something not repeated in Matthew or Luke). This is an echo of the greatest commandments of loving God and Neighbour. Jesus obeys in His love for the rich man and yet the rich man cannot give up all he possesses and follow Jesus. He cannot put love of man before love of things.”[3] So again I ask why do we assume that he is rich? What if this is about something else?
It is easy to take the man’s grief and inability to transform his life into something new and generalize it.  Oh, wait Did I mention this is a call to transformation.  This isn’t always about giving up wealth, this isn’t always about practicing the law.  This is about practice and change and growth.
The young man has a good spiritual start “you know the commandments do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie about someone, honor your parents…
Jesus emphasizes this as the guidelines as the beginning to a good spiritual practice and good way to live the young man has done all these.  Day in and day out…followed the commandments lived a good life…okay says Jesus I want you to go further.  If this practice is down pat, you got the commandments all lined up and done then let’s do more…. we can always do more…we can always go further
Sell everything you own, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow me
But you see the man finds it too hard to transform, to hard to change that much so drastically and he goes away sad.
Jesus did not tell him he could not get into heaven as a matter of fact if, after Jesus listed the commandments, the man could have walked away happy knowing he was set to get into heaven.  He could have just said oh ok thank you I will do that.  But the man had a beginning of something already happening for he knew there had to be more…or else why ask… the spirit was moving him to go further, to explore his call, where the spirit might be leading him…
Yet when he explores the challenge of the spirit he is resistant to the finale…selling everything and following Jesus…that’s too much he went away sad…
I wonder what if Jesus had said start a practice to minimize your possessions…prayerfully and intentionally get down to just what you need get rid of all the extra stuff that is holding you back…not all at once a little at a time…make it a spiritual practice….
Would he had walked away so dejected?  Would this had made it easier?
Walter Bruggeman reminds us that; “It is true that in a sermon the man's problem can be generalized and identified as anything that claims our highest loyalty, our ultimate concern, and prevents an uninhibited following of Jesus­ not only wealth, but ambition, education, religion, and the like. But the conversations that follow with the disciples and Peter warn us about leaving the topic of money too quickly. Possessions have a peculiar and insidious way of becoming our masters. Precisely because they hold the potential for good as well as for evil, they easily seduce us and make us their slaves. Thus, money remains the topic of conversation.”[4]
You see the disciples watched this guy walk away sad and are confused.  This lesson is for them.  Jesus is rather blunt with them concerning wealth and the kingdom of heaven. The statement “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone to enter heaven” goes against their contemporary Jewish faith.
“the disciples, no doubt are thinking that riches are a material sign of God’s blessing ( a notion occasionally expressed in Jewish literature and certainly alive and well in western Christianity), are thoroughly perplexed by what they hear, and ask in exasperation, ‘Then who can be saved?” Jesus replies that it takes a miracle for a rich person to be saved – maybe one of God’s hardest miracles!”[5]
“Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
Jesus kind of just turns on its head what he has just told the young man.  It is still not enough to sell everything and follow Christ…For mortals to get into heaven is its impossible…but in God, through God, in the gift of grace is the key to the kingdom…
But then we must follow and answer the call that God places upon our hearts.
“How hard is it for the conservatives…because there is a kind of resistant regularity that keeps us safe;
How hard it is for the liberals…who know themselves to have all the right answers and want to cram them down the throats of others;
How hard it is for the whites…or blacks…to move beyond racial wounds to trust, when we have learned for so long about hurt and fear and mistrust;
How hard for the entitled to recognize that others have a fair claim on our abundance;
How hard it is in our busyness to take time for what matters.”[6]
This reading is saying it is hard even impossible for a mere human to get into heaven and yet…it is not for with God all things are possible…
With God a conservative’s rules and regulations can bend…
With God a liberal can take a loving and humble approach to their brothers and sisters
With God we can explore white privilege and begin to move beyond racial wounds…
With God those gifted with abundance can seek equity for all...
With God we can slow down and take time for what matters…
“As you know, it used to say, "For men it is impossible." Now it says, "For mortals it is impossible." In our male generosity the men have now invited the women as well to think about the impossibility. For all of our resolve and good intention, it is hard ... how hard! Hard to let go, hard to move on, hard to be transformed.
And then Jesus says, because he will not leave them there: "For God, all
things are possible!"
Listen for that! It was impossible, so long ago, for a baby to be born to old mother Sarah in the Book of Genesis. It was impossible for the slaves to break out from the demands of Pharaoh. It was impossible that Jews would come home to a new Jerusalem. It is impossible that a Friday death should be broken open by Easter newness. It is impossible that God's spirit would blow newness beyond all of our tribal affiliations to create a new community. It was impossible that Apartheid in South Africa would end. It was impossible that the hate would stop its authority in Northern Ireland.”[7]
It is impossible that we will ever see a completely just world.  It is now impossible to see an end to hunger, war or disease. The world is full of the impossible. Yet “we are a people who hold onto the miracles worked by this Easter agent.”[8]
“Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."[9]
Then Peter has to lift his voice…it sounds almost as if he is arguing or defending himself and the others “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”
“But many who are first will be last, and the last shall be first” (Mark 10:31)
“Think of that…last/first…first/last…dead/alive…humiliated/exalted…hungry/fed…guilty/forgiven…lost/found…the word of the gospel is big and strong.  We do not need to turn away in shock and grief. God is among us, doing the impossible work of transformation…all things new…how hard…all things new!”[10]
All things new…perhaps this transformation and giving up of one’s riches depends on one’s point of view…It would be hard to walk away from everything…some of us simply couldn’t even if we wanted to. We have dependents, work, health, responsibilities…heck we have a life and to give up everything just isn’t our calling and yet…let me share a few items that Bob shared at bible study this week…
A poor man asked the Buddha, "Why am I so poor?" The Buddha said, "you do not learn to give."
So the poor man said, "If I'm not having anything?" Buddha said: "You have a few things,
The Face, which can give a smile: Mouth: you can praise or comfort others; The Heart: it can open up to others;
Eyes: who can look the other with the eyes of goodness: Body: which can be used to help others."

Such simple gifts and yet it is something that any one of us can give…your smile may just be another person’s treasure for that day.
(St. Basil) If each kept only what is required for his current needs, and left the surplus for the needy, wealth and poverty would be abolished...The bread you keep belongs to another who is starving, the coat that lies in your chest is stolen from the naked, the shoes that rot in your house are stolen from the man who goes unshod, the money you have laid aside is stolen from the poverty stricken. In this way you are the oppressors of as many people as you can help. No, it not rapaciousness that is condemned, but your refusal to share.
For those wondering what rapaciousness means it is “Having or showing a strong or excessive desire to acquire money or possess things;” I confess I am guilty of this, …not so much intentionally, but, I have a huge drawer filled with t-shirts…how many can I wear in a week?  How many are actually sentimental in any way? Do I need all those t-shirts? I can weave them into rugs but am  I really going to do that or just buy t-shirt yarn?
Leonardo Boff, former Franciscan) Anyone who is not poor may become so through solidarity and more, through identification with the poor. One feels full of compassion and gentleness for the inhuman situation that afflicts the poor and decides through love, to live together with them, participating in the hope and bitterness.... This was the way of Jesus. He who ' was rich, became poor for us· with the aim of overcoming the difference between persons, some in affliction and others in consolation, so that there 'might be equality" (2 Car. 8:9-13).
We can choose to learn more about what it means to be poor.  In different societies that means different things.  In San Francisco one could walk with he night ministry for an evening or two.  Here in Petaluma one could volunteer at Cots or perhaps at the senior lunches offered by Petaluma people services. Roughly 10-13% of people in Petaluma alone live below the poverty level.  Who are they what can we do to make a difference?
(Dorothy Day) The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for him. It is the only way we have of knowing and believing in our love. The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.
“Making ourselves poor in giving to others” …this is a call to humility.  One can not go into charitable work, can not attempt to walk with the poor with an attitude of supremacy and/or chivalry.  We are not the saviors.  We are not the great hope.  We do not give out of a sense of guilt or superiority. We do what we can in the humility of Christ. We do what we can knowing this is what we are called to do. For many of us we are but a paycheck or two away from being the one who may be in need. We give and care out of solidarity with the one whom we are called to follow, Christ.
(Henri Nouwen) Jesus, the Blessed One, is poor. The poverty of Jesus is much more than an economic or social poverty. Jesus is poor because he freely chose powerlessness over power, vulnerability over defensiveness, dependency over self-sufficiency. As the great "Song of Christ" so beautifully expresses: "He ... did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself', ... becoming as human beings are" (Philippians 2:6-7). This is the poverty of spirit that Jesus chose to live.
A poverty of spirit as Jesus chose.  A unique position that each one of us can work towards.  This is much more than being human it is a spiritual empathy, an understanding of the true human condition and a realization that in each person there is a spirit that we are called to meet , greet, lift up and make first in this world. That the we who may be considered first become last so that those looked upon as last/least may be first.
(Joan Chittister, Benedictine) In a world where the accumulation of goods, money, power, and property denies millions the basics of life­ their wages, their resources, their education, their health, their future­ Benedictine spirituality confronts that kind of engorgement with the principle of sufficiency. "It is written," the Rule says, "Distribution was made as each had need." And, "Whoever needs less should thank God and not be distressed, but whoever needs more should feel humble because of their weakness .... Benedictine spirituality simply confines us to what is necessary-so that we can help to sustain those who cannot earn the money they need to take care of themselves.
For Joan this is a spiritual practice in community and yet easy enough to adopt in one’s own life. It speaks of a practice of taking our needs, evaluating them, and restructuring ourselves to just what is necessary. For each of us that may be something different. In all humility only each one of us can decide what that means for us. What is Necessary? How much do we really need? This isn’t about starving oneself it isn’t even about denying ourselves something fantastic or special now and then.  It is about developing a spiritual practice of contemplation, evaluation and action.
Contemplation…spiritually look at our lives, our position and how we move through this life as Christians.
Evaluate…are there somethings we can live without?  Are there a better practices we can engage in around money, food, conservation?  What would happen if we changed our eating or shopping habits?
(Richard Rohr) How blessed (or "happy'? are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. -Matthew 5:3 "Poor in spirit" means an inner emptiness and humility, a beginner's mind, and to live without a need for personal righteousness or reputation. It is the "powerlessness" of Alcoholics Anonymous' First Step.  The Greek word Matthew uses for "poor" is ptochoi, which literally means, "the very empty ones, those who are crouching." They are the bent-over beggars, the little nobodies of this world who have nothing left, who aren't self-preoccupied or full of themselves in any way. Jesus is saying: "Happy are you, you're the freest of all."
Our prayer may be just as Richard reflects lord make me as the very empty ones.  Help me to get out of the way, lose my ego and let your work within me begin.  Help me to seek you first and foremost so that I may begin to build a just world for all. Amen

[1] Brueggemann, Walter, and Charles B. Cousar. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.p.546
[2] Ditto, p547
[4] Brueggemann, Walter, and Charles B. Cousar. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.p.547
[5] Ditto
[6] Brueggemann, Walter. The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. p.320
[7] Ditto
[8] Ditto
[9] Carroll, Lewis, and John Tenniel. Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There: With Fifty Illustrations by John Tenniel. London: Macmillan, 1887. Chapter 5
[10] Brueggemann, Walter. The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. p.321

No comments:

Post a Comment