Bee Fruitful, #2
Oct 10, 2021
20th Sunday after Pentecost/Stewardship Emphasis
Text: Mark 10:17-31
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
A couple of weeks ago, I referred to the Gospel lesson as one of “those” readings, meaning that regardless of how often we’ve heard it – or preached on it – we question what the real message may be (since what it seems to be is somewhat disconcerting).
On that previous Sunday, Jesus used hyperbole to make the point that if anything gets in the way of our being disciples, it must be eliminated. That’s particularly true, Jesus said, if it keeps us from offering hope to his “little ones,” who are people of all ages, deemed to be the least, to be unacceptable and vulnerable to exclusion and rejection. Do you remember that unnerving text? If your hand, or foot, or eye cause you to sin, cut them off, tear them out, for it is better to have only one hand or foot or eye in the Kingdom of God than to have two and be thrown into hell. YIKES! I think all of us are relieved to know that this is not to be taken literally but is hyperbole, an exaggeration to make a point about what matters.
Well, today’s story is Part 2, although it may be more difficult to hear since it is unclear if Jesus is speaking in hyperbole. Does he expect the man who approaches him to “sell what you own, and give the money to the poor”? We probably are hoping that is not the case. So let’s take a closer look.
An unidentified man kneels before Jesus on the road. Initially, we are told nothing more about him. However, in the comparable story in Matthew, he is called “the rich young man,” and in Luke, he is called “the rich young ruler.” As Mark’s account begins, this man could be “everyone”; the reader does not know he has many possessions until the end of the story.
Remember, Jesus is on “the way”; he is going to Jerusalem to face suffering and death, and he is continuing to make the cost of discipleship clear to his followers. This man who ran up and knelt before Jesus, who kept the commandments from his youth, is an example from whom to learn.
We can surmise that he comes to Jesus for a reason. As commentator Pastor David Lose points out, perhaps he knows something is wrong since he has kept the commandments and still is experiencing dis-ease. Interestingly, everyone else who kneels before Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is making a request for healing. Is this man doing so because he knows himself to need restoration? (1)
But, the “prescription” – to sell all he has and follow Jesus - is too difficult, or so it seems since we do not know his long-term response, only that he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. There are at least three details in this brief story that it is important for us to note. First, that Jesus loves him; the text clearly states this in verse 21. Jesus is not mocking or testing him but has absolute regard for and wants what is best for him. Second, Jesus asks him not simply to give away his wealth but to give it to the poor, implying that meeting others’ needs is a requirement of discipleship. And, third, the rich man is not the only one who is shocked at Jesus’ pronouncement, so is everyone else in earshot. That’s because wealth was viewed as a sign of blessing by God in the first century. (Maybe the 21st century too?) So, to purposely give it all up seemed a rejection of God’s favor.
Then Jesus makes the situation even more confusing when he comments on the difficulty of the rich entering the Kingdom of God (or being a follower of Jesus?) There is a lot of debate concerning why this would be the case, including those offered by Pastor Lose. It could be because it is a temptation to believe that one is made self-sufficient by one’s wealth with no need for God or others. It could be because one is desensitized to the needs of others by wealth, insulated from the suffering of others (or the need to help them). Or perhaps it is because wealth distances people from being dependent on others. (2)
Then there is the question of priorities, that is, what comes first is a person’s life. Basically, Jesus was inviting the man to give up all that made up his identity and status in the world to follow him. That is what he needed to do to make being a disciple his priority. His wealth had too much of a “draw” on him; he could not entrust himself to God and be rich.
Ok, I’ll be honest, this always makes me squirm; maybe that’s true for you too. It’s a reminder of how difficult it is to trust God above all else. Especially when there is a lot in which we can place our trust – money, status, our abilities, people, and possessions, to name a few. As commentator Chelsey Harmon notes, “It is difficult for someone with a lot of earthly security and prosperity to take on the posture of a child – the posture of someone whose life, well-being and prospects are handed over to be controlled by another – but that is what the life of discipleship is and how the Kingdom of God works.” (3)
It’s a continuous challenge to make being a disciple of Jesus THE thing that matters, and that is obvious in how we live and share our resources. Yet, it is possible, as Jesus reminds us in the text: all things are possible with God. The most important being that we are God’s loved and forgiven children through God’s grace that comes to us in Jesus, not because of what we do or fail to do.
All things are possible, including learning to “hold all things loosely,” seeing them not as a source of security or self-sufficiency but as what God has entrusted to us to steward, to use as we follow Jesus. I like that phrase, “hold all things loosely,” it could refer not only to possessions and money, but also people, abilities, and status, all of which are gifts of God, given to us temporarily, for us to commit to the glory of God and use for the common good. I will say, though, that we need help when it comes to “holding all things loosely,” which is where the theme verse for this month enters the picture.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to develop these characteristics – this fruit – in our lives. As that happens, “holding things loosely” is more and more possible and more and more of a blessing in our lives and in the world.
Like our mascot, the Honey Bee, then, let us be fruitful. AMEN
(1) “Jesus, the Rich Man, and all of us Lousy Stewards”, by David Lose, October 7, 2012, www.workingpreacher.org
(2) “Commentary on Mark 10:17-31” by David Lose, www.workingpreacher.org
(3) “Mark 10:17-31 Commentary” by Chelsey Harmon, October 10, 2021, www.CEpreaching.org