Week of Sunday 14 October - Pentecost 20
Gospel: Mark 10:17-31
13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
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; Honour 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.’
The Sermon Draft:
Jesus said 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’
Little children were the least of the least. Their father even got to say if they would be accepted as a member of the family! You had no birthright, unless the father accepted you! A little child was only allowed to be a member of the family on the acceptance of the father of the family.
We only enter the kingdom of God as a little child; we only enter because God calls us in. There is no being good enough on our own merits—ever.
No one is good enough. “No one is good but God alone,” said Jesus. And to drive the point home, Mark tells us of a good man who comes to Jesus.
We know this man is good, because Mark has him kneel before Jesus. He honours Jesus. And we know he is good because ever since being a youth—that time when he became responsible to God—he has kept the law.
“You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” He has done all of this.
One of those “shall nots” is not in the ten commandments; “You shall not defraud.” Mark puts it into the story deliberately. People often think the rich have become rich by ripping off the poor. But not this man. He is a good man. He has kept the law. He has not defrauded the poor.
And he is unhappy. He knows his life is unfulfilled. Riches do NOT make us happy. ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ he cries. ‘What must I do to find fulfilment, find meaning, find happiness— find some point in life?’
He could be anyone of us.
Jesus looked at him. It means Jesus looked into him, if you like; he took the measure of the man. He like what he saw; this was a good man. And Jesus loved him.
‘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.’
‘When he heard this, [the man] was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.’
When it came to the point, he loved his possessions more than doing what it took to fix the one thing he was lacking.
Everyone in Jesus’ time knew that rich people were blessed by God. Sure, some of them ripped you off, but basically, if you were well off and healthy it meant God loved you. If you were poor or sick, or had no children, it was a sign you had done wrong by God, and were not being blessed.
So not only the young man was shocked by what Jesus said. Everyone was!
So 23 ... Jesus looked around [and knew what everyone was thinking. And he said to] his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’
[This was almost heresy at the time!! No wonder the disciples were, as Mark puts it,] “perplexed at these words!”
So [Jesus drove the point home. He] said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
If we are listening carefully, we’ll see that this time he didn’t say “for rich people to enter the kingdom.” He says it is hard for everyone! In fact some of the early copyists of Mark were so shocked by this, that they put the words “for a rich person,” into the text!
So Jesus has said this shocking thing about riches twice, now. And just to make sure we get the message, he says it again:
“ 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.” Forget about stories of the Needle Gate, if you’ve heard them, where, it is said, the camels had to get down on their knees to get into the city. The point is, a camel can’t get through the eye of a needle. It is easier for Clive Palmer to get through the keyhole of his accountant’s office than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.
If we get something repeated three times in a gospel we are meant to understand it is of the utmost importance; without understanding this, Mark is saying, you will understand nothing!
We might remember another threefold repetition in this part of Mark: three times Jesus tells the disciples he will be handed over and will be killed, and then will rise.
So it is no wonder that the disciples 26 ... “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.’ It’s another way of saying 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ We enter the kingdom only because God brings us in. We are not capable. We can never be good enough.
The good thing about that all is that we don’t have to be good enough! Jesus took the little children in his arms and blessed them. He loves the children; us. As the Gospel of Luke says, and as Paul says, It has pleased God to give us the kingdom. (Luke 12:32 1 Cor 1:21)
The obvious question is this: if I don’t have to be good enough, why don’t I feel like I’m heading to the kingdom of heaven. Why do I feel like the young man, who clearly did not think he was inheriting the kingdom? Why, like him, do I still feel distant from God?
Well, we are all being healed. We are all being saved. It is a process which takes time. But there is also another problem. It’s called looking in the wrong place.
The other day I spent ages carefully and systematically going through bags and drawers and coat pockets, and could not find my phone. I was never going to find it either, because I was never looking in the right place, no matter how thorough I was. It was sitting in plain view on the front seat of the car outside; I’d made a phone call when I got home the night before, and left it there.
Every message we get in society tells us to look in the wrong place. Advertising tells us things make us happy; cars, house in the right suburb, the right figure, the right school for our kids, teeth whitened for only $299.00, having the right phone, the right super, being in the right church, believing the right things, saying the right things. None of this gets us to heaven or to God, or makes us happy.
And another set of messages tell us be good, be good, be good... to make God happy.
None of this works.
What works is simply accepting that God love us.
If we want to be faithful to God; that is full of faith, there is only one thing we need to do, really. All we need to do is stop worrying about pleasing God and getting to heaven, and being happy. We simply need to get on with saying thank you, by helping other people, and looking after the world.
What works is understanding we have possessions and riches to help other people, not to make us happy. We are not put here to be happy. We are put here to live for other people so that they are happy, and can live a decent life. And that will mean we will stumble across the happiness God wants us to have. We will open ourselves to it, barely needing to look.
When I stopped stressing about my phone, and went out to the car to go out and visit someone without it, to make them happy, I found my phone.
There is a paradox here. And lots of “ifs and buts” to do with resisting abuse and being made a door mat, and keeping enough money to be a responsible member of the society in which we live. And so on...
But... the less I have worried about me—and that’s a process in itself—and the more I have focussed on what Jesus seems to be saying about living with other people, and for other people, and trying, in my own poor way to do that, the happier and healthier I have become.
I feel less guilty about the undoubted riches I have. I feel less worried about the limited super I have for retirement. And I simply know that God loves me. I no longer doubt this. I just found it, one day. It was given to me. That’s how God does it. Amen.
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