Proper 23B – Mark 10:17-31
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
I wonder what drove the man to Jesus. I wonder what was going on in his life that caused him to run to Jesus, kneel down, and ask his question. What’s the desperation behind his question? What’s his desire?
We could speculate about him but chances are there have been times in your life when you asked the same kind of question. I know I have. It’s a restless, sleepless night kind of question. It’s a daytime longing and searching kind of question. It’s the kind of question that becomes a prayer or a call to a friend. It’s more than just a religious question, however. It was for the man and it is for us. It’s not about doctrine or theology. And it’s not about the future. It’s about this moment. It’s about life and it’s about being more alive. What must I do to have the fullness of life right here, right now?
I think it’s the question we ask when we bump up against our own finitude and our powerlessness. I wonder when you have asked this question. What was going on in your life? What was behind your question? What was your desire? Your need?
This question is about a quality of life, not a quantity. The man in today’s gospel has plenty. He’s rich with property, possessions, wealth. Haven’t you had the experience of getting something you really wanted and then finding yourself still lacking? Something was missing and quantity could not fill the emptiness of quality.
“You lack one thing,” Jesus tells the man. He already knows that. That’s why he is asking his question. What Jesus does is show him a way forward. He offers a new day and a fresh start.
- I will never forget the night I sat in my law office, overlooking Corpus Christi Bay, asking this man’s question. I was a partner in the firm, a husband, a father. I had a car, a truck, a boat, a house, and a cat. I had it all, except for life.
- I remember Cyndy and I asking how we would ever get ourselves back and live again after our son Brandon died.
- I suspect all those affected by Michael, Florence, the Indonesia tsunami are asking the question and looking to recover themselves and their lives.
- I suspect each of you has asked that question when the weight of life was more than your could carry, when things were spinning out of control, when grief was strangling your soul, when the loss was irreparable and the time was ruined, when the life your were living was not the life you desired. Maybe some of you are experiencing that today.
What must I do to inherit eternal life? What must I do to find myself again? What must I do to be more fully alive? How do I step through the impossibility of what is and into the possibility of what might be?
We’d like to turn back time, undo the past, escape the moment. That’s impossible. That’s not going to happen. Florence will not backtrack into the Gulf and Brandon is not going to walk through our front door. You know that and so do I. But what is the possibility in that impossibility? That’s our real question and it’s the one the man in today’s gospel (Mark 10:17-31) is asking. He wants a different quality of life, a second chance, a new beginning, a new day. I know about that and I’ll bet you do too.
It’s so easy to hear Jesus’ words as a challenge, as something to be accomplished, as demanding more than we are prepared to give or do. “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
But what if we hear Jesus’ words as words of hope and words of salvation? I am not talking about salvation as a reward, as being made safe, or even comfortable; but as being turned upside down, being unhinged, a reordering of life, a freedom to become, the gift of a new day. And I am not talking about hope as a feeling, a wish, or an escape from this moment; but as a coming of the possibility in the impossible, a voice, a calling that asks a response from us.
Isn’t that really what Jesus is offering the man in today’s gospel? Hope. Salvation.
To get this new life, the old one must be let go of. And that’s hard when there is so much to let go of. The man is invested in what he has. Most of us are. And what he wants will cost him everything he has. There can be no holding on to the things or events of the past if we want to step into a new day. That doesn’t mean we forget, deny, or ignore the past. It just means the past no longer defines what is or is not possible.
This letting go of the old for the new is not a trade, an exchange, or a balancing of the books. And it’s not a price we pay to God. It’s about the freedom to become, the freedom to step into a new life, the freedom to see the possibility in the impossible.
What might you need to let go of in order to step into a new day and make a fresh start? What possibilities await you in what looks like the impossible?
This is not easy work. When the man heard what Jesus had to say “he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” There’s a lot to let go of. Sometimes it’s monetary wealth and possessions; sometimes it’s a wealth of anger, fear, guilt; sometimes it’s a wealth of busyness, our calendar, and task lists; sometimes it’s the wealth of our reputation, another’s approval, or our power; sometimes it’s the wealth of ingrained habits and attitudes.
I can understand why the man feels what he does, can’t you? We invest ourselves in lots of stuff and I like my stuff, don’t you? For better or worse it has brought us to this point in life, but then something happens and we realize that it can take us no further. And I grieve when what I have is lost, taken away, or let go of.
We often hear this story as saying the man chose not to follow Jesus, but that’s not what the text says. Today’s gospel does not say that he refused to do what Jesus said. But neither does it say that he did what Jesus said. It says he turned away grieving. Maybe he went home and immediately sold his stuff, gave the money to the poor, and chased after Jesus. Maybe he did it a month later or eight years later. Or maybe he never did it. We just don’t know. And that’s ok. What he did or did not do is not the issue. The issue is about us, what we do or do not do.
Do you know what happened the morning after the man went away grieving? The same thing that happened the morning after my night of questioning, the same thing that happened the morning after Florence and Michael made landfall, the same thing that happened the morning after Brandon died, and the same thing that happened the morning after you faced the hopelessness and impossibility of your life.
A new day dawned and the sun rose once again. Light and warmth entered our world. What more could we ask for? That’s the miracle in the impossible. That doesn’t necessarily make life easy or comfortable. It makes new life possible.
Please do not hear that as some sappy, feel good, Hallmark kind of thing. Hear it for what it is. Hope. Salvation. The possibility of a fresh start. Life resurrected. The dawn of a new day. A gift.
So tell me, what will you do with your new precious and possibility-filled day?
Your words, Fr. Marsh, are the gift of possibility for me. However impossible our situations might seem right now, (mine is age and illness), you have made your understanding and presence known by being so real and human. I love Jesus for the same reason. (You are never sappy, nor do you hide behind off-putting religiousity.)
Perhaps my deeper situation is a kind of spiritual loneliness brought to light by reading your sermon, but now feeling more like grace.
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Thank you Elizabeth for good and encouraging words. I pray the light of a new day shines brightly on you.
God’s peace be with you,
I will welcome it with open arms, give thanks for it and live it as it comes to me…living each moment in the moment.
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“Living each moment in the moment.” That really is the only moment isn’t it? The moment of life, the moment of possibility, the moment of God. Thank you Stephanie.
God’s peace be with you,
I needed this today. And will be reflecting on it for the next bit I imagine. I printed it out to reread. Thank you, as always, for your sagacious insight.
Judi, you are more than welcome. I so appreciate you reading my blog and sharing your life and comments. More and more I am seeing that Life never gives up on us.
God’s peace be with you,