Truly Transformed

By Rev. Chris Jorgensen

September 20, 2020

Video of the entire service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/317202786240128/

Scripture: Mark 10:17-22

photo of person kneeling

Today’s reading is another great story from the biblical narrative. It’s not as messy as the one from last week, but just as interesting! Here we’ve got Jesus on the move, again, and this man runs up to him and kneels down before him. This man literally stops Jesus in his tracks. He has a very pressing question for Jesus. He asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

Jesus gives him a pretty straightforward answer. You have to follow the commandments. Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Dont’ steal. Honor your parents. Don’t defraud people. (That one is an interesting addition since it’s the only one that is not part of the Ten Commandments. Scholars think Jesus added it because he wants the man to think carefully about whether he is earning his living in an honest way.)

The man is like, “Yes! I have done all those things!” I imagine he’s probably feeling pretty good at this point. But Jesus, who never seems to let folks get too comfortable, says (and this is my modern interpretation), “Great. You need to do just one more thing.” Now, these next words are exactly from today’s scripture. Jesus says, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then, come, follow me.”

The man is shocked. He goes away grieving, for he had many possessions.

One of the commentators I read this week alerted me to the fact that Jesus did not exactly answer his question. I probably wouldn’t have noticed the difference. The man comes to Jesus asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers by telling him what he must do to “store treasure in heaven?” In other words, instead of worrying about some future eternal life and becoming rich in human things right now, the man should have asked: “How do I become rich in the things that pertain to the divine realm?” [1] … in this life.

I’m not sure about you, but when I think about people who are doing Jesus’ work in the world, people like Mother Theresa or St. Francis, they are typically not very rich in the human realm. I’m talking about not just materially. I mean socially as well. I don’t feel like money and power and status is often the natural consequence of choosing to follow Jesus. Those folks I am thinking of – I think they read this scripture and took it very seriously.

I also know most of us, myself totally included, are not choosing to give up everything we own and give the proceeds to the poor so that we can become rich in divine things. That’s a very high bar. I’m not going to pretend this story is not challenging, and I’m not going to pretend I’m currently achieving what Jesus is saying here. I’m not. Yet, here’s the story. Right here in the bible. It shows up three times, in fact. Mark, Matthew, and Luke all tell this story. 

So it’s important to listen to it, to be made uncomfortable by it. It’s important to ask ourselves, “What would Jesus say to us about how we can become rich in divine things instead of human things?”

Maybe, even if we can’t quite reach the bar Jesus sets here, not yet…maybe we can at least order our lives in that general direction. I do know, sometimes, in fact, people do listen to what God is calling them to do with their lives and make choices that are challenging – and maybe not the most lucrative in human terms – in order to follow that call.

That’s why I asked Megan Hobbs to tell her story today. So let’s hear about her journey from band teacher to social worker.

[To hear Megan’s story, go to 24:15 in this video: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/317202786240128/]

When I hear Megan’s story, the first thing I hear is faithfulness – faithfulness to do the hard, not-lucrative, not socially-cool thing in order to love and empower folks in our community. No, Megan did not sell every last item she owned, but she worked really hard and sacrificed in order to follow God’s call.

I am grateful for the inspiration of her story, and I’m also grateful that we are called to do the same.

Before Jesus put this seemingly impossible challenge before the man in the story, before Jesus told him how much he would have to sacrifice in order to follow him, the text says, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” As Jesus was about to make this man totally uncomfortable, give him this incredible challenge, Jesus loved him. 

I want to share one more thing I learned from this week’s commentators on this text. The man in this story is the “only person whom Mark tells us explicitly that Jesus loved.”[2] Isn’t that remarkable? Mark doesn’t tell us Jesus loved his favorite disciple Peter or his mother or the woman who anointed him who Jesus praises so lavishly. Mark reserves this note, that Jesus loved someone, for the person who comes earnestly seeking the things of God.

Because Jesus loved him, he told him the truth. To receive the things of heaven, we must be liberated from our desire for the things of this world: our desire for material wealth, for high social status, for power and the admiration of others. In the words of another commentator, “Perceiving [the man’s] anxiety and entrapment in his possessions, Jesus calls him onward to the freedom to be found in divestment and discipleship.” [3] We are trapped in this anxiety as well. We have been conditioned by the values of this world to think that living humbly, emptying ourselves for others is loss, but it is actually divine treasure.

Jesus loves us, too. He calls us onward to freedom, too.

May we have the courage to follow.

May it be so.

Amen.

[1] Shelly Matthews. “Mark: The Homiletical Perspective.” IN Feasting on the Gospels (John, Volume 1) edited by Cynthia Jarvis and Elizabeth Johnson. Louisville: Westminster John Know, 2015. p. 311.

[2] Bridget Green. “Mark: The Exegetical Perspective.” IN Feasting on the Gospels (John, Volume 1) edited by Cynthia Jarvis and Elizabeth Johnson. Louisville: Westminster John Know, 2015. p. 313.

[3] John K. Stendahl. “Mark: The Pastoral Perspective.” IN Feasting on the Gospels (John, Volume 1) edited by Cynthia Jarvis and Elizabeth Johnson. Louisville: Westminster John Know, 2015. p. 312.

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