A Reflection on Mark 10:17-31
Money, money, money, money, money: Jesus never had any in his pockets, but he knew what would happen to our hearts if we kept our hands clutched too tightly around ours.
Money—whether people earn it legally or on the streets, if it becomes your reason to exist or the center of your identity, its hold on you will lead you to the same place: a place filled with grief, with anger, with anxiety, and with a hollow loneliness that defies satisfaction.
So, take it out today. Right now. Take it out—your money that is—go to your wallet, your purse, your little stash in your sock drawer, the cup on your dresser filled with quarters, or your piggy bank, so that with these words in your heart (take my silver and my gold) you might see what it means to you, what it does to you, either for you or against you. And if you have no cold hard cash on hand, get out your checkbook and your credit cards because I want you to recognize what money feels like between your fingers and what it does to the imagination of your heart.
The world has taught us that no matter how much money we have, it’s okay to want more. Can’t live without it in this world, unless you’re God, of course. For just as he alone is good, he alone needs neither income nor bank account to live. So, look again at your money.
Jesus is setting out on a journey—a journey that will lead to the cross—and a man asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus, who in the Father’s love has his direction set to give eternal life, is stopped by a man who wants to know what he can do to get it. The man has lived an honorable life in the sight of his neighbors, for he’s not afraid to tell the living God that he has obeyed the commandments that protect our relationships with one another, and he’s well-dressed enough for Jesus to see that he is a man of means. And the man knows something about the laws of inheritance, so if he hasn’t already received an earthly inheritance, he’s doing all that he can to earn the good graces of the one who will bestow it. But while all the laws of this world that he has obeyed are worth obeying for the sake of his neighbor, they cannot give him what can neither be bought nor earned. For what God gives freely as a gift is worth more than anything any of us could ever do.
“You lack one thing,” 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.”
You can be obedient to all the laws of the land, you can earn your money honestly and with integrity, but if you think that there is something that you alone can do to earn eternal life, well then, you’re in for quite a surprise.
“Sell all that you own and give it to the poor,” Jesus tells our inquisitive man. Empty yourself so that once and for all, you’ll know that you are dependent upon God for everything. Everything? Everything! My guess is that the man had already filled a row of those storage units that dot the frontage roads of the highways of our land. Everything was a lot of things: Maybe things he didn’t even use but kept for security; maybe things he didn’t even like but with which he was enamored because of their monetary value.
But if the man had done what Jesus had told him to do in love, he would have discovered the joy of eternal life. He would have tasted the freedom of eternal goodness. He would be filled with the love that comes from the only one who is truly good, God himself.
Giving his money to the poor would indeed help the poor, and as important as it is to care deeply for those with material needs, Jesus commands the man to give because he loves the man, and he knows that this man cannot celebrate the inheritance of grace until he stops holding on so tightly to the money in his hands—because when we’re holding on so tightly to what we think is ours, our hands are not open to receive all that God has to give us.
When we give of our material things to those who cannot survive without such help, we often discover that in giving we receive more than we ever imagined. When we live our lives dependent upon God, truly believing that all that we have is a gift, we discover that we become vessels of his goodness—his life in ours, his life given for ours—which makes our lives his sacramental material, through which His mercy flows to the whole world.
Sell all that you have and give it to the poor. Jesus is not trying to make the man feel guilty for his possessions, for that would be a fruitless task. Jesus, who looks on this man in love, wants the man to receive the love and to live the love—for the sheer joy of it, just as a child receives the sunrise of a new day and cannot wait to play.
But the man just wasn’t quite ready that day and held on to his grief (to be healed, we pray, at a later time) and Jesus uses the event of that day to teach his disciples. I imagine he would have used a different example with us, since none of us have parked camels in the garage. He would have talked about something else that would have appeared to be impossible, ludicrous, even absurd. He might have said that it would be easier for a family of four with a three-bedroom home, five televisions, three computers, a dining room set, a pool table, closets full of clothes, and brand new stainless steel appliances to get everything they own into one suitcase than it is for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.
If Jesus said that to you, you’d be astounded and you might really wonder, “Well, who then can be saved?” You might believe at last, that you couldn’t do the saving—but that God would do it for you. Indeed, he already has.
So, look at your money again, and I invite you to do something that is as shocking as the words of Jesus were to that rich man. When it comes time for the offering this Sunday, put in all the cash you’re carrying. All? All! Did you already write a check? Do you already have your envelope set to go? Put that in, too. This is on top of that. This is your chance to come to the table fully dependent upon God for your life, for every breath. Some of you may have more money in the bank and may be able to access it later in the day, and some of you may not. I hope you’ll look down the pew and invite someone for a meal if you can, receiving your brothers and sisters, mothers and children a hundred times and yet again.
But mostly I want you all to know in your bodies, that everything, everything is a gift from God. I want you to know the joy of the kingdom. I pray for you to let go of your grief, your anxiety, your fears, your desperate need to be in control, and to at last taste the treasures of heaven which will sustain you until the fullness of eternal life is yours.
May you live each day trusting in your Savior’s mercy. May you love your neighbor in the joy with which your Lord loves you. And when you receive his very body in yours this Sunday, may your thanks for all that he has done never end. AMEN.