Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 23)

October 11, 2015
Text: Mark 10:17-22

            Is it wrong to have wealth?  Is it wrong to enjoy the good things that money can buy, to enjoy luxuries, even count them as blessings of God and give thanks for them?  No.  That is not what our text says.  And there is this verse from St. Paul that is misquoted all the time: Paul doesn’t say “money is the root of all evils,” as it is all too often the proverb.  Paul says “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10; ESV; emphasis added), and so the writer to the Hebrews exhorts us, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).  Some Christians suffer great pangs of conscience when they hear our Holy Gospel, because they think Jesus is telling them to sell everything they have and give it to the poor.  Well, you’ll be relieved to know that is not the case, either.  Jesus doesn’t give this commandment to you.  He gives it to the young man.  Our Confessions make this clear for the sake of tortured consciences: “Because not all callings are the same, this calling does not belong to everyone, but only to that person with whom Christ speaks.  In the same way we are not to imitate the call of David to the kingdom [1 Samuel 16] or of Abraham to slay his son [Genesis 22].  Callings are personal, just as business matters themselves vary with times and persons.  However, the example of obedience is general” (Apol. XXVII (XIII): 49 [McCain, p. 244]).  So you aren’t called to sell all your possessions and give to the poor.  You are called to obedience to God in your own vocations and station in life.  Whew!  We can keep our stuff.  What a load off!
            But not so fast!  This episode wouldn’t appear in the Holy Gospel if it weren’t in some sense addressed to you.  As it happens, it appears in all three Synoptic Gospels, which would seem to indicate Jesus wants you to take it to heart.  So what does this mean… for you?  Notice that the account is left open ended.  We don’t know what happens to the rich young man.  He goes away sad, because he has great possessions (Mark 10:22).  Does that mean he keeps his stuff and turns his back on Jesus?  Or does he go away and think it over and decide to follow Jesus and His command after all?  Why aren’t we given the end of the story?  One reason is, I think this rich young man is our Gospel writer, John Mark himself.  That isn’t “Thus saith the LORD,” that’s just my own humble speculation on the basis of a well-developed theory by some seminary professors.  John Mark is traditionally thought to be a man of means, the son of a well-to-do woman who provides the upper room for Jesus and His disciples on the night He was betrayed.  John Mark is probably the naked youth who runs away when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus.  Ancient writers have a way of writing themselves into the story in this way, not unlike an artist painting himself into his picture.  And in Acts 15, we find out Paul doesn’t want to take John Mark on his Second Missionary Journey, because during the First Journey, Mark chose safety and comfort over the perils and hardship of missionary work for Jesus, a situation that sounds remarkably similar to this account of the rich young man.  But be that as it may, the real reason this account is left open ended is that your Lord wants you to think about some very hard questions.  What if this command to sell all your possessions and give it all away to the poor was addressed to you?  Would you do it?  Could you do it?  Joyfully?  Or begrudgingly?  Paul tells us “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7), but what about a giver who only gives because God commands it?  Who gives half-heartedly, or resentfully, or reluctantly, because that is what is expected?
            Repent.  You have the same problem the young man has!  And that is the point of this whole text.  You would be disheartened, too.  You would walk away sorrowful, too.  Because, while you may be generous (and I know many of you are), Jesus is talking about a total handing over of everything; a complete giving of the self; faith that rejects mammon entirely and trusts that Jesus will always take care of you, always provide your daily bread, always give you what you need for this body and life, and so much more.  This is a First Commandment issue.  Who or what do you fear, love, and trust the most?  That person or that thing is your god.  It’s easy to say “Jesus” when He isn’t commanding to you to give everything away.  But what about when He does?  Then it isn’t so easy, is it?  The young man has a fear, love, and trust conflict between his riches and Jesus.  He has to choose between them, and he’s not sure which one he should choose in spite of the fact that the answer is obvious to us.  But his conflict exposes your own.  What do you fear, love, and trust above Jesus?  Money?  Your spouse?  Your kids?  Your job?  How about your life?  Think about those Christian martyrs in Oregon who saw their brothers and sisters slain for the faith, and still stood up and in the face of the shooter and confessed, “I am a Christian.”  Those were the last words they spoke on earth.  That doesn’t happen naturally.  That takes the Holy Spirit.  It’s a miracle, the miracle of faith.  Blessed are they.  What would you do?  I ask myself that question constantly.  And I pray the Holy Spirit would give me (and you!) the courage to follow the example of these dear saints. 
            The problem for the rich young man isn’t just his riches, it’s the question he asks.  The man asks a Law question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:17; emphasis added).  So Jesus gives a Law answer.  You know the Commandments.  Just do them perfectly, and you’ll live.  It is true that if you could keep the Law perfectly, you would earn eternal life.  The amazing thing is, the rich young man thinks he has.  “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth” (v. 20).  That is why Jesus goes for the jugular.  You may have kept these Commandments outwardly.  If so, good for you.  But that doesn’t get you anywhere with God.  God looks at the heart.  God wants you to keep them inwardly.  And that is impossible for sinners like you and the rich young man.  The man goes away sorrowful.  Even if he sold all his possessions and gave the proceeds to the poor, he hasn’t fulfilled the Law.  His sorrow gives him away.  He is full of greed and covetousness, and he fears, loves, and trusts in wealth as his god.  Ask a Law question, get a Law answer.  But the way of the Law always ends in despair for sinners, for you.
            This text exposes our hopeless idolatry.  But thank God, this text is also filled with beautiful Gospel.  To begin with, Jesus asks this puzzling question of the young man: “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone” (v. 18).  Our Lord wants the young man and you to connect the dots here.  If Jesus is good, and no one is good except God alone, then Jesus is God.  And this God, Jesus Christ, reveals Himself as a God who is consumed with the matter of your salvation.  He takes the time to patiently teach the young man… and you.  He does a Catechism lesson with the young man… and you, taking you through the Ten Commandments and the Creed, teaching you Law and Gospel, showing you that you cannot do anything to inherit eternal life, as if you earn an inheritance in the first place.  You cannot fulfill the Law, but Jesus can, and He does, for you.  And the amazing and comforting thing is, though the rich young man boasts that He has kept the Law from his youth, though He is self-righteous and arrogant, and flubs up his whole theology, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (v. 21; emphasis added).  In spite of it all.  Jesus loves sinners.  Jesus loves the rich, self-righteous young man.  Jesus loves you, O sinner, O greedy and covetous, O idolater.  He loves you as His own.  He loves you to the end.
            This is how He loves you: “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).  You see, what He told the young man he would have to do if He wanted to become righteous by the Law, Jesus Himself did on behalf of the young man and on behalf of us all.  He who is very God of very God, became Man.  He humbled Himself, literally “emptied” Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  He gave it all.  He gave everything.  He gave His very life.  And He gave it to the poor.  Which is to say, He gave it to you.  And now you are rich in Him.  You possess as His gift to you all of His righteousness, all of His perfect keeping of the Commandments, His death which forgives your sins, His resurrection life which means that you will live eternally and He will raise you bodily from the dead, and the very Kingdom of heaven.  And as if all that were not enough, He makes you God’s own child in Holy Baptism, so that you can call upon Jesus’ Father as “Our Father.”  He preaches His Gospel to you.  He gives you a home and a family here in the Church.  He gathers you around His altar to feast on His Body and Blood with your brothers and sisters in Christ, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  And He serves you as gracious Host, as loving Brother, as your Lord and as your Savior. 

            And this sets you free: Free to enjoy the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon you by His goodness, free to enjoy creation, love, friendship, food and drink, house and home, music, art, electronic gizmos, and everything else.  And it frees you up to give it all away, to be generous for the sake of your neighbor in need, to sacrifice, as Christ sacrificed Himself for you, because you know Jesus Christ will never forsake you.  He is your God.  Money isn’t.  Your stuff isn’t.  Wealth always fails as a god.  Jesus never does.  He is an unfailing fountain of good.  His gifts never dry up.  He love for you never runs out.  He looks at you in your sin and loves you.  And thanks be to God, eternal life doesn’t depend on you and what you do.  It depends on Jesus and what He has done.  Salvation is not the result of your faithfulness to Christ.  It is the result of His faithfulness to you.  So let’s ask the Gospel question.  Let’s get the question right: Good Teacher (God in the flesh), what have You done that I inherit eternal life?  And He answers: “I love you, I died for you, I am risen for you, and I live for you.  And I give you my Word and Spirit, my Washing of Regeneration, my Body and my Blood, for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and that you inherit eternal life.”  He has spoken.  There you have it.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

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