FOR THE Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, we hear from the Gospel According to Saint Mark concerning our justification before God. Using the example of a man who asks about his potential for gaining eternal life, Jesus teaches his church about justification and discipleship.
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not defraud. Honor your father and mother.’”
And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.”
And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
Peter began to say to him, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundred fold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:17-31)
A man approached and put a question to Jesus as he was traveling toward Jerusalem. In reading, we find that several items stand out for us in this account from Mark. The first is that the man was typically oriented toward worldly success as a measure of his value before God. This foolish idea was common at that time among the Jews, just as it is now with many of us in modern times. We see that he called Jesus a “good” teacher, or rabbi. A bit of “buttering up” it seems? Thus Jesus caught him immersed in his earthly measurement system.
We consider, “Just how good is Good? In Genesis, when creating all things, God had declared all things good. However, we hear from Jesus that since that time of that fall from grace only God is the source of all good and brings good into the world. By this we know that Jesus, as God’s only begotten Son, regarded all human beings as “sinful” and “fallen”. But God has loved us with infinite love and came to be with us anyhow. This fact reminds us of the very reason that Jesus Christ was born into the world. He loved us and came to save us since we cannot buy or work through thought or deed to justify ourselves.
Notice that the man wanted to know if his success would be an advantage or detriment, when at last he would be judged. We note that Jesus provided him with an abbreviated listing of the Ten Commandments as a measure. The man responded that he has done all things well from his youth, once again leaning on his works righteousness to gain eternal life. But yet Jesus still loved him, and looked kindly upon him for his answer that from his youth he had done all these things. However, Jesus then responded by further testing the man’s bounds of loyalty. Jesus asked if he would give up all that he had and follow him. As Mark related, the man sadly walked away.
Grace Not Works!
The lesson for us often falls hard upon our egos and wallets. We need ask, “Could we toss aside all that we think we have to follow Jesus?” Now, we must remember a very important fact here! Mark wrote this episode to a church that knew growing persecutions at the time of relating this conversation. Mark reminded that Jesus was walking toward Jerusalem. He told that Jesus would be killed in a horrid way. We may wonder, “Was Mark asking whether his readers were willing to consider all earthly things as meager in regards to the privilege of following Jesus, even following to the cross? I think so. I believe that Mark stressed that following Jesus often means that we must be willing, if needed, to cast aside all earthly possessions and go to our cross.
However, additional undercurrents confront us in this lesson. Quickly following this conversation, Jesus uses a familiar metaphor to teach his disciples. He talked about the difficulty for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Our lesson thus blatantly tells us that we cannot work hard doing good deeds to bribe God through power, position, or accomplishments to get into the kingdom. We cannot get to heaven based on human wealth or accomplishments.
However, consider that if that same camel… the largest common animal in the geographical area… could have just as easily have represented God coming into the world through his only begotten Beloved Son. Was not God going through the eye of a needle to work wonders upon the earth and carry us to eternal life? I would say, “Indeed a camel can go through the eye of a needle.” The miracle being highlighted is that a finite human being can miraculously contain the Infinite. Jesus was born as a human child, like a camel through the eye of a needle... and grew to be the man who was crucified, died... and rose again on the third day. Jesus Christ was and yet is our infinite God. Thus God has done what some still consider as impossible!
The topic here was not salvation accomplished in the morrow by our works, so that when we shall die and stand at the gate to heaven and be judged... we shall earn a place in the kingdom. Rather, the message as Mark tells it, is that salvation is already accomplished for those of us who believe and follow Jesus Christ. In a time of trial and persecution then, we need not worry about… nor cling selfishly to… worldly possessions. We are to cling to the cross of Jesus Christ! We are called to use our works only as tools to forward the message of salvation.
We need not worry about whether we have eternal life. We need not worry about earning worldly position, for God has already accepted us. We who are sinful and should be last… are put first through the work of his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
Let us then not strive to earn heaven, but rather work in thankfulness for our heavenly inheritance. Let us strive to tell the “GOOD NEWS”, through church outreach and evangelism. Let us proclaim that grace which has been already given to us. Yes indeed,know that persecutions will come by our doing so, but our rewards are already great in heaven. Have faith! This is the Word and the promise of God.