Texts: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
One fine day…Jesus set out on a journey. Not just any old kind of road trip, mind you. He had a particular destination and urgent timetable. He was, as they say, a man on a mission. The day was fine, not in the weather-sense, but in the sense of his direction, which was toward goodness.
One fine day…a man heard that the rabbi Jesus was leaving town. Having a very pressing and unanswered question on his mind, he caught up with the Rabbi who was moving with great purpose. Desperate to stop the rabbi, the man got down on his knees in front of Jesus, which effectively brought the rabbi to a halt. He blurted out, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And it was, we must agree, a very fine question indeed.
Jesus saw that the question required correction of a misunderstanding. Who is properly worthy of being called “good”? Only God, said Jesus. Placing good in any other location, within any particular person, is bound to lead to disappointment. Whatever goodness any of us has within us is a gift, a spark directly from the incandescent flame of God.
And there was also the loaded question about inheritance. Everyone knows it can be a difficult and sensitive subject. Who gets what, and how much. And those awful circumstances where an inheritance is stolen, as with those biblical brothers Esau and Jacob.
When you put a spiritual spin on the subject of inheritance, it only gets more awkward. If unequal inheritance is possible in this life, then can it be true of heaven as well? And if so, how would that fit into the goodness of God? Who can bear to contemplate it?
Therefore we should be glad for what Jesus said next. “You know the commandments… And very helpfully, in case the man might have forgotten them, Jesus rattled off six of the ten.
This was not a sudden change of subject from inheritance to commandments. Did you catch what Jesus was doing? Every child of God has already received from God our first and most important inheritance. It is God’s commandments which, from the beginning were to be the source of God’s good in human life.
One fine day…a man came before Jesus full of faith and conviction. A believer who was able to say with complete confidence about the commandments of God, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” We have to assume that the man was honest. Who could kneel before the face of Jesus and speak falsely?
That man could be any one of us, you know. We believe! We do our best to keep God’s law! We’ve done so since we first heard about Moses and the tablets of stone in the youth of our faith. As far as we were able to, of course.
There may be circumstances requiring a bit of explanation. A case to be made for exceptions. Mistakes may have been made along the way. Certainly we have some regrets, who doesn’t?
It’s like the letter to the Hebrews says. God knows we have weaknesses. Our weaknesses end up in sin. And sin is an injurious condition. So people, meaning both us and others, get hurt. Whenever damage happens, you can be sure that sin is involved. And God is not influenced by our elegant and urgent self-defenses.
One fine day… a man boldly went up to Jesus, asking to inherit eternal life. It’s safe to say he didn’t really understand what he was asking. So Jesus put it to him straight. There is one thing that prevents you from receiving the life for which you yearn.” You are weighed down by all that you treasure and possess on earth. Let it go. Let go.
Then, said Jesus, you will truly get up from your knees. Become un-grounded by letting go. Then you can come with me where I am going. Exchange what you treasure on earth for the treasure of heaven – God’s good place. This is how you inherit all that God gives.
And the man went on his way with sadness on his face and pain in his heart. For all the things he treasured on earth were a burden he was not ready to concede. Even for the sake of glory.
One fine day… Jesus looked a man in the eye and invited him to walk away from all the comfort and certainty he knew. And to do it for good. For good!
Jesus asked a man to take everything he had and with it to bless the poor who have nothing. That would be the man’s first step toward good, which is also eternal life, and God’s very being too, if we are to believe what Jesus says.
And didn’t Amos say it too? Seek the Lord and live. But we do, we say earnestly. We do that!
Here’s the test, says Amos. Is there justice on the ground? Or are people left with the bitter taste of wormwood in their mouths for lack of it? Do people resent and reject being accountable to God and one another? Do the poor grow poorer? Is it possible to buy privilege and advantage?
If so, then where is the good? If so, then it is a time of great evil. A time when wisdom means being silent, waiting and watching. Only whenever and wherever evil is hated, can true good flourish. And the flourishing of good is the very signature of God in our world.
One fine day…a man came to Jesus to ask for life qualitatively more wonderful than what he already had. But Jesus shook his core assumptions. All the man’s earthly goods were not anything like the eternal good that is possible with God.
Even the disciples had a hard time learning that Jesus-lesson. To get it, you have to unlearn what you’ve always been taught – that wealth is God’s blessing to the well-deserving. And to hunger or lack for anything is the curse of the un-deserving. Peter protested to Jesus that they deserved something for their faithful letting go and following him. To which Jesus replied that they would receive back all they had given up. And more than they could ever deserve.
It’s truly a fine day when...You wanted to be first but find out you’re last, and Jesus says that’s good! It’s exactly the place where you need to be. Because God’s grace is most fully known to the ones who possess nothing but faith. Which is good news for us, rich and poor alike.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.