Mark 10: 17-31
17 As 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.
23 Then 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.’
28 Peter 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.’
Last week the NCAA National Wrestling Tournament Final was in Pittsburgh.
It was the end of a long season that started at the beginning of the season in November for what remained of the 2,400 young men who wrestled for Division 1 schools.
Last Thursday, of those 2,400, only 330 were left to compete in 10 weight classes.
Saturday evening, at the end, there were 10 champions, one in each weight class.
Other than maybe the Olympics, there is no more difficult tournament to win than the NCAA tournament, in my view.
After each final match, the winner was interviewed.
One wrestler was particularly interesting.
He said that he had been a wrestler since he was 3 years old, which meant that he had been wrestling for almost 20 years.
He said that winning the national championship (his third) was the culmination of years of total commitment to the sport.
Wrestling was, if you think about it, his life!
He went to school, he went to church, he went to wrestling practice and he wrestled.
That was about it.
I have to think that at one point in his young life, he went to a coach, or maybe his parents, and said something like this:
“What do I need to do to become a champion?”
I am sure he got a list.
Learn the moves.
Compete as often as you can.
He did all those things, though.
“Be totally committed!”
“Wrestling must be your priority!”
That is what he did.
That is why he is the champ!
One of the best wrestlers in the United States and maybe the world.
That is one heck of a commitment.
What does this have to do with our text today?
Jesus is approached by a man who asks a very important question.
He believes Jesus knows the answer.
“What do I need to do to get into God’s Kingdom?”
That is a question we all ask at one point in time, right?
If we were sitting there watching this conversation, we would be all ears, right?
So, what does Jesus say?
“Here’s a list!”
“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.”
These are the “love neighbor” side of the commandments.
The man responds; check, check, check, check, check, check.
OK, kind of hard to believe.
But Jesus accepts it and “loves” him for it.
But then Jesus says something else.
“You lack one thing.”
A box not checked!
Jesus does not tell him specifically what the box is, but instead tells him what to do to check it off.
‘[G]o, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’
But the guy can’t check that box.
Because he has many possessions.
What was that box?
Everyone who heard this is stunned.
Even the disciples.
Because in those days, it was understood that having many possessions was a sign of favor from God.
That kind of wealth wasn’t bad, it was a blessing.
This guy was being told that his wealth was a curse, not a blessing.
His world was turned upside down!
Why would wealth be a curse for this guy?
Well, it wasn’t his wealth that was the problem.
It was how he felt about his many possessions.
They had priority in his life.
Priority even over his desire for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Money was something he was unwilling to give up to inherit the Kingdom.
Jesus might mean that this man was unable to keep the “love God” side of the commandments.
His love of his wealth was what kept him from committing to Jesus.
He could not check the commitment box.
Most people read this story as being solely about money.
And we are … well … horrified that Jesus’ might be asking us to sell all we own and give it to the poor in order to inherit the Kingdom.
But that is not what Jesus is saying.
When we read the passage, we must read this part as well.
Jesus said to [his disciples] …, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!’
Really hard for rich folks, because they tend to put their money first, but hard for everyone.
That is more commitment than they can stomach.
But we all have something that demonstrates a lack of commitment at times, don’t we?
The thing that keeps us from being totally committed to God.
The box we can’t check.
We all have one.
The thing that makes us walk away grieving because we can’t give it up?
But then Jesus offers some comfort.
No one can be totally committed.
No one can check that box.
No one can get into God’s Kingdom through their own efforts.
Only God can make it happen.
Which is good news, because God does make it happen.
This is the Good News.
Peter, of course, does not really understand.
It is almost like he wants to know what good does it to do here to do as Jesus asks.
Listen to Peter.
‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’
“Look,” Peter seems to say, “We, your disciples, have done what you asked him to do and we have followed you!”
“If that is what makes us blessed, favored by God, what does that look like?”
Frankly, it is an insightful question from Peter.
29… ‘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.
That sounds great, doesn’t it?
Prosperity Gospel on steroids!
100 times return on our commitment!
But that does not really satisfy Peter.
He does not think that he got a 100-times return from his “commitment” to Jesus.
“Where is it?”, Peter wants to know.
Jesus says, “Look around, Peter.”
“Look at all the mothers, brothers, sisters, and children who are following us around and
Treating each other like we are all one big family!
“Look at all the houses that have been opened to us as we travel around.
“Look at all the fields we have been granted access to as we have pursued our ministry.”
This group of disciples, not just the twelve of you, but all those who are following us, are those things.
The return is not many possessions, it is community.
It is the sharing and caring. It is the loving each other and so loving God.
It’s actually a pretty nice return on your commitment.
Which raises the question.
Do we have this?
I think so.
I was talking with someone this week about what this looks like at JMPC.
I was told that it is a phone call after the flood to see if all was well.
We do that.
I was told that it is a dropped off lunch during an illness.
We do that.
I was told that it is the community of knowledge and experience offered to answer questions about issues that come up in our lives.
We do that, too.
Only a community can offer such things.
We are such a community.
An expanded family with lots of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children … you get the picture.
And when life gets hard, we folks are there to keep each other going.
The part about persecutions?
Not such a bid deal to us these days, but in Jesus’ day and particularly in Mark’s day, the rewards were accompanied by persecutions, and it was the church that allowed folks to carry on.
And Jesus goes on:
“But even these things are just a small part of the reward.
“In the next age, you will have eternal life.”
If we are committed, that is what Jesus provides.
And yes, it does turn things upside down.
What we put first, becomes last.
What we put last, becomes first.
Which brings us back to the question of commitment.
Do we have to “give up something” to demonstrate our commitment?
But what we really have to do is look at our priorities.
Bac to that NCAA champion.
For that NCAA wrestler, getting to be the champ meant giving up other activities, sometimes food, sometimes friends.
It was his priority.
But it was worth it to him.
And it might be easy to say that he should have given it up to demonstrate his commitment to God.
But as he was talking about his commitment to his sport, he added at the end that he owed it all to God, who was the source of his ability and commitment.
Giving God the glory demonstrates priority.
God also knows this is hard.
It is hard to get into the kingdom.
Jesus tells us that.
But God makes it possible.
He makes it possible through Jesus.
The one who did give up everything, his divinity, his authority, his life, so that we could enter the Kingdom.