Scripture - Mark 10:17-31
Mark 10:17-31 (NRSV)
17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “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.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Hymn - Jesus Calls Us (UMH 398)
I have to say, I really identify with the man who comes up to Jesus to ask him what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Of all the questions that he could ask Jesus - this man who works miracles, who casts out demons, who possesses all wisdom and knowledge - he picks the question having to do with getting eternal life. The big reward. The grand prize, blue ribbon, giant trophy. In the school of life, it’s the question - “what do I have to do to ace this class?” And being the good student that I am, I can relate to that. I was one of those kids that you didn’t want to have in the class if the professor was going to grade on a curve because if there was one thing I knew how to do well, it was being a diligent student and giving exactly what was demanded of me to perfection. What assignments do I have to complete, what rules do I have to follow, what books do I have to read. High school was tough because of classes like English and History where there weren’t any “right answers” - it was in college where this gift truly shone and I could hone in on my math and science skills to figure out the right way to arrive at the right answer. And truth be told, I operate out of that wanting to do things the “right way” mentality a lot of the time - wanting to say the right things when someone’s having a tough time or when I’m in a difficult conversation with someone, wanting to parent Michael the right way so he grows up into the person God created him to be -- wanting to have the right spiritual practices, to have all my stuff together and be presentable, to say and do the right kind of things that are expected of me...and when I don’t feel like I handled something the right way or mastered something I should have been able to do - I run through the scenario over and over again in my mind, thinking, “I should have said this” or “done that”. It’s all about matching my actions to outward expectations.
So when I see this man talking with Jesus - I see someone wanting to get it right, wanting to figure out what he has to do to be right with God, wanting to discover the expectations so he can get the prize. And Jesus hands him the list - no murdering, no stealing, no lying, etcetera. Your basic commandments - the ones, as it turns out, this man has been following all along. No sweat. A plus, buddy, you pass with flying colors.
But for whatever reason, this doesn’t satisfy the man. He wants more - and again, I can relate to that - the desire to master a challenge, to really sink your teeth and dig in to a project. A spiritual conquest, something that really proves that you’ve earned that eternal life.
Jesus, in our passage, looks at the man. And the text notes that Jesus loved him as he told the man the one thing he needed to do - the one thing that was missing, the one thing that Jesus probably knew that the man wouldn’t be able to do: to sell what he owned, give the money to the poor, and follow him. The man went away shocked and grieved because of his many possessions.
Jesus goes on to use this man as a bit of a teaching moment for his disciples - but again, his disciples miss the point - Peter is quick say that “Hey Jesus, we all left everything behind to follow you...look Jesus, don’t we get an A+ for that? We didn’t have a problem with letting go of our stuff to follow you.” Jesus instead brings the conversation back to their greatest sticking point - the biggest barrier to their own being all-in with Jesus -- and that was this whole notion of the first being last….and the last being first….and asking the disciples to let go of the notion that somehow they’ve earned first place or the position of being the greatest in the kingdom of God.
Jesus’s invitation - for both the wealthy man and for the disciples - is to give up the life they know and to live for others. To not be attached to the ego - the possessions, the need to be greatest, the need to be right - and instead live for others.
“The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
This life with Christ is not about checking off boxes - following this or that commandment….sitting on this or that church committee….putting x amount of dollars in the plate -- and thinking that that equates to following Jesus. A life with Christ isn’t even about achieving a certain status of holiness or worthiness - as if you have to level up your soul to unlock new skills or additional bonuses before living the abundant life Christ offers. We can’t work or earn our way into it or create it ourselves - it is impossible for us to do. We can’t get there on our own.
When Jesus told the young man to sell all his possessions, I think Jesus knew that it was the one thing that was impossible for him to do. There was no way that he was going to be able to accomplish that task - and maybe that was the point. For if the young man had it within him to do it, had he said, “alright Jesus, consider it done” and went straight away to take care of it and came back to follow….he would have inherited eternal life all by himself - worked his way into the kingdom, getting there on his own merit, achieving eternal life as a reward for a life well-lived, done right, expectations met and managed.
Jesus knows this. He tells the disciples “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
How many of us are trying to save ourselves, relying on our own resources, rather than letting God grow the kingdom within and around us? How many of us lean on our accomplishments - spiritual or otherwise - and use them as a metric for determining our worthiness rather than offering all of who we are - the good, bad, and the ugly, and relying on God’s grace for the rest?
We can’t work ourselves into God’s favor or earn our way to eternal life - that was the mistake made by both the disciples and the young man in our passage. It’s a mistake I know I make all the time, thinking that somehow I can use my gifts and education and possessions and efforts and knowledge and translate that into saving myself from my own destructive habits, or that I can earn my way into making God love me more - as if the spiritual life were something to accomplish rather than a life poured out in love for others. The reality is, however, that there’s nothing you or I could ever do that would make God love me or you more...or less. And the way to access that love isn’t by achieving anything or getting your life in order or by thinking the right things or ticking off the correct religious boxes...but by surrender and letting go...surrendering our need for control or validation...our need to achieve or accomplish...our need for security and safety in the things we can see and touch….it’s a letting go of that which we cling to most tightly in order to follow Jesus…..a task that is impossible for us on our own….but not for God.
Jesus always invites us - “come and follow me.” That invitation stands wherever we are - however we are - whoever we are. There is no need to perform for God...or for each other. There is no need to show off our spiritual medals - or lack thereof. It is not necessary to have it together...in any area of your life. All that is needed is to accept the great depth of love God has for you - exactly where you are, no accomplishments needed - and trust that Jesus wants you to follow him not for your own sake only...but for the sake of a hurting and broken world that also needs to know how much God loves it.
We cannot save ourselves - but God can. May we trust this week in that invitation from Jesus - the one in whom all things are possible - to step together into that kingdom that God is building not only in the heavens but here among us on earth. May we accept fully God’s love for us - so that we can be a people poured out in love for others. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and almost 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.