Friday, 23 December 2011

:: A look of grief :::



Mark 10 17: 31 - The Rich Man
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?" 18 Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You 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.'" 20 He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." 21 Jesus, 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." 22 When 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!" 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It 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." 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" 27 Jesus 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." 29 Jesus 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, 30 who 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. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."
Holy Bible NRSV



This passage from Mark has always challenged me and like the rich young man I too have walked away from my reading of it feeling despondent. I think that this is because my underlining reaction has always been one of shame, assuming that Jesus was being highly critical of the rich young man and that unless we give everything away and follow him we can never have eternal life. The words have made me search myself and I find that I am ashamed to admit, I have great attachments to my material possessions and the security of a regular income. However after spending a lot of time with this scripture I don’t feel that this is the case at all. Jesus isn’t attacking the rich he is merely exposing the barrier which is preventing this rich young man from entering the kingdom – namely the love of money.
At the start of this scripture the rich man, runs up to Jesus, falls to his knees and asks: ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ This man of great wealth, who is described as a ruler in Luke runs to Jesus and makes an extravagant address hungry to know how he might inherit eternal life. To understand the young mans question more we need to put it into context, by looking at what has just gone before, what has driven this young man to run to Jesus and fall to his feet burning with a question about eternal life. Jesus had just explained that in order to be saved we must first become like children, humble and pure of heart. Jesus suggests that when we become humble like a child we then rely on our Father in heaven, as a child relies on its parents. It is in this relationship, with God at the centre, that we can have eternal salvation, here on earth - now.
When the young man asks his question Jesus intrinsically sees his fatal flaw. He knew what was stopping him from having heaven on earth from being saved and having eternal life. In order to point out this mans sin Jesus repeats the last 6 commandments. The young man proudly tells Jesus that he has obeyed the commandments since he was a child. However, Jesus reveals that his love of money and power has prevented him from obeying the first commandment - to let nothing be more important than God,
This is because although he knew the law and had followed the law, his priorities were all wrong, he treasured possessions and money not God, the centre of his life was the love of money and we know from other scripture that the love of money is the root of all evil. Note its not having money that is evil, it’s the love of it which is the root of all evil and ultimately leads to our unhappiness. Because when money is more important than God and when the love of it is our priority above all things it can only lead to our downfall and destruction. Because if money and material possessions are our priority, what happens if we lose them all, or if it is taken away from us or destroyed? The love of God and the relationship with him can never be destroyed, can never be lost and He will always love us. We are told in the scripture that nothing can separate us from Gods Love, but we can so easily be separated from money. Jesus tells us that our treasures are stored in heaven not here on earth in bank accounts. We can have all the treasure that we need, the treasures that count if we follow him because these treasures are purchased with love by living a life like Jesus and following his example. But is seems just too hard for this rich man to put his trust in God, its hard because he believes, like many people do, that money and possessions are security, he puts his trust in having money. He doesn’t realise that his relationship with money is binding him and that to be free of these ties he must put his trust in God, just as a child trusts their parents.
The disciples are amazed at these words because if we put the situation into context a wealthy man was a symbol of success, wealth was a symbol of Gods approval and of Gods blessing. This is why they cannot understand why a rich man cannot enter the kingdom. But Jesus is turning this belief on its head when he suggests that it is only when you come before God as a child in dependence of him that you will receive eternal life.
When the young man tells Jesus that he has followed his commandments he is saying that he has never done any harm, but what good has he done? Jesus looks at him with love because he wants to save this rich young man and he wants him to turn his attention to God, he wants him to have a happy and fulfilled life, but he knows that this is too hard for the young man to do.
Sometimes the truth hurts but it’s always better to know the truth from the start. Christ had the compassion to do this. To the young man and the disciples to give all you have to the poor seems a little drastic and that is perhaps what we struggle with when we first reads this scripture. But I think that what Jesus really wants for the young man is for him to give up the love of his money and his attachment to it, his fear of losing it and the security it brings. I can well understand the fear of giving up a comfortable income and lifestyle to serve God. But Jesus knows that by replacing the love of money with the love of God the man will be transformed leading him to a life of fulfilment and joy which is worth its weight in Gold. But Jesus sees the young man worships money and that his god is money, He feels compassion because he already knows what the man is going to do. The young man is disappointed because he knows he hasn’t the strength to make this great sacrifice. Sadly he cannot accept the gift of grace which is freely given because he is tethered to money.
So what is this scripture saying to us, today? Is Jesus asking us to give everything away to the poor? Or is he asking us to examine ourselves and identify those things in our lives which stop us from being close to him? I think for all of us there is often one thing which we feel is impossible to sacrifice, but to do so sets us free. In October I talked to you about how we can bear fruit, the answer then was the answer now, to put all our attachments at the cross and allow God to abide with us, to let God take the driving seat. Sometimes the sacrifice is forgiveness, or a hard heart, anger or jealousy, for each of us it is different, for this man it’s the love of money was stopping him from abiding with God.
Two weeks ago I talked about gifts, what we could give to God this Advent, as we prepare for the coming of our Lord, today I am suggesting the gift could be letting go of something, facing our fears and trusting in God. During our prayer time lets ask God what might be our master, what might be the thing, large or small which is holding us back from having a fulfilled and fruitful relationship with God. Let us take that thing and put it at the foot of the cross where is belongs so we can be set free, free so God can abide with us, free to bear the fruits he has intended us to.
I want to leave you with what comforts me and inspires me in this passage, the personal message that it has for me in my walk. In my minds eye I see Christ looking at this young man and loving him. He loved him knowing what his response will be, He loved him enough to give him tough advice and speak the truth to him, some may say this was tough love. Perhaps there was also a look of sadness and regret as Christ gazed on this young man and saw what could have been. I don’t know about you but I feel this is the saddest part of this scripture, you can almost see Jesus hold his gaze on the young man as he walks away into the distance head held low, slowly becoming a speck until he disappears. William Barclay sums this look for me perfectly :
It was a look of grief. And that grief was the grief that is the sorest grief of all – the grief of seeing a man deliberately choose to fail to be what he might have been and had it in him to be. Jesus looks at us with the appeal of love, with the challenge to the knightliness of the Christian way. God grant that He may never have to look at us with the sorrow of one who looks at a loved one who refuses to be what he might have been and could have been.
I often tell people I have a good twenty years left in me and I want to give those twenty years to God because I don’t want to end my days with feelings of regret and wondering what could have been if I had had the courage to say yes.
What will you say yes to today?

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It is my prayer that my words may be of some comfort or may bless you in some way...I love to hear from you and your journeys...every blessing H