Year B Proper 23 Mark 10
What Must I DO to Receive Life?
Some of you may wish to re-evaluate your diamonds on that basis. But seriously the true curse of any kind of valuable possession is its capacity to steal our hearts and souls. The rich young ruler is one of those unique characters from the Bible that have come to represent greed. So unwilling was he to part with earthly wealth that he sold his soul in order to keep his money. He wanted to be saved but not at the expense of losing his possessions. The first thing that impresses me when I read this story is that the rich young ruler was so near to the Kingdom. He asked all the right questions. He understood the Law and he understood Jesus' teaching. But in the end love of money kept him out. We see him as a moral coward.
But that conclusion is too simple. The fact is there are a lot of good things that can be said of him. I'm impressed with the fact, for example, that having talked with him only a few minutes, Mark tells us that Jesus looked upon him and loved him. That doesn't sound like a scathing criticism to me. And, I think that we also need to remember that to this young boy Jesus was not the Son of God. He was simply a new prophet, with an exciting message, a magnetic personality, and eyes that gripped you when you spoke to him. He was certainly not the Christ of the Apostles' Creed. At this point in his ministry, not even the disciples looked upon Jesus in that regard. The stone of Easter had not yet been rolled away.
And so for a few moments this morning I would like to champion the cause of this underdog and reassess his character. And then I want to look at his fatal flaws. First let’s look at the positive. These are things that brought him to the master, qualities that made him interested in Jesus' teachings.
- The first positive thing is: he was courageous.
- The second positive thing is: he was humble.
- The third positive thing is: he was religious.
- The first negative thing is: he was looking for a rule to keep.
- The second negative thing is: he loved his money.
- The third negative thing is: he walked away.
When Too Much Can Be Too Little
Our parents complained that "the world is going to hell in a hand basket."
Your soul not to mention your budget is in mortal danger as you approach the grocery store checkout lane. You say, "How?"
You've carefully filled your cart with the needed items outlined on your list. You patiently wait in line, always seeming to pick the one that's slowest. Yet somehow, by the time the checker begins tallying up the items in your cart, it has suddenly filled up with a pack of gum, a box of Tic-Tacs, a new TV Guide, a four-pack of AA batteries, three candy bars and a magazine for enquiring minds.
If your 5-year-old is along, you may also have accumulated a new Pez dispenser, a mylar balloon with a Disney character on it and a plastic "cellular" telephone filled with tiny bubble-gum pieces. Stores purposefully pack this kind of junky, funky, consumer gunk into the narrow gauntlet we must run to get to the checkout counter. Things we would never intentionally have gone in search of now languish under our fingertips inviting, no insisting, that we grab them.
Although impulsively buying a pack of gum or a candy bar hardly seems earth-shattering or soul-threatening, the truth is that the increasingly voracious appetites of this consumer culture are being methodically nurtured and stimulated by a crass and crushing consumerism. The worldwide ramifications of such little things as a checkout gauntlet are ominous.
After a bad day, our parents sighed, "The world is going to hell in a hand basket." Today we can sigh even more deeply on a daily basis that the whole world is "going to hell in a shopping cart." For an increasing number of people, self-identity and life-purpose are summed up by the mantra "I shop, therefore I am." Raging consumerism has left Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" far behind. Consumer culture has never even heard of, much less considered, God's revelation to Moses, "I am who I am; therefore, you are."
Like the rich young man in today's gospel text, we know ourselves, we identify ourselves, we define ourselves, by our possessions, our things, our "stuff." This young man was so possessed by his "stuff" that he could unstuff himself neither for the sake of the poor, nor for his own sake and his quest for eternal life. Faced with the choice between his old secure, in-control, in-charge self and the unknown possibilities of life as a disciple of Jesus, the rich man clung to his human illusions of power and control...