Sermon: Discipleship and Stewardship
St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Job 23.1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22.1-15; Hebrews 4.12-16; Mark 10.17-31
Discipleship and Stewardship
In last week’s lesson from Mark we noted Jesus’ comments on divorce and his indignity that the disciples were not allowing parents to bring their children to be blessed. We noted, as such, that Jesus was speaking to the needs of those marginalized in society – especially women and children. This week we consider a man who runs up to Jesus, kneels before him, and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Mark 10.17; NRSV)? Two things stand out immediately: First, the man came running up to Jesus – this was uncharacteristically exuberant. Second, he knelt before Jesus, thereby displaying great respect. It was rare that anyone would kneel before a rabbi.
Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10.18; NRSV). Jesus then reminded him of several of the commandments including murder, adultery, theft, false witness, defrauding others, and honoring one’s father and mother. Did you notice Jesus did not mention any of the commandments pertaining to our relationship with God? Nothing is mentioned of worshiping God alone, making idols, profaning God’s name, or failing to keep the Sabbath. Hold that thought in mind for a moment.
The man replied, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth” (Mark 10:20; NRSV). In other words, “Look, Jesus, I have done everything you mentioned. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Am I in or not? Tell me!” Mark then says, “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’” (Mark 10.21; NRSV). And what was his response? He was “shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (Mark 10.22; NRSV). This is the point in the story where we realize the man was rich. The parallel accounts found in Matthew 19 and Luke 18 also wait to reveal the fact he was rich, although Luke tells us right up front that he was a ruler (Vs. 18). As we know, rulers are prone to abuse their power – yet he had kept all the commandments Jesus cited! This would be uncharacteristic of a ruler.
This is the only instance in which Mark tells us Jesus loved someone. I suspect Jesus recognized the inherent goodness in this man, his desire to keep the commandments. Jesus realized he was so near and yet so far, for Jesus recognized the one thing he lacked – his proper use and placement of wealth. His possessions had become his idol; they had taken God’s rightful place. Had Jesus first mentioned his failure to truly love God, would he have been able to hear him? I suspect, he would have dismissed what Jesus had to say. But Jesus began by citing those commandments he was keeping. Then, when Jesus revealed the extent of his love for his possessions, he was shocked, and he left grieving! We do not know what ultimately happened to him. Perhaps he later sold his possessions, gave his money to the poor, and followed Jesus. But we do know Jesus told him the one thing he needed, and he heard it.
In Hebrews 4 we read, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (Vss. 12-13: NRSV).
In John we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1.1, 14; NRSV). The rich ruler encountered the Word of God which was living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword; the rich ruler encountered the one who can judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. But note this – even though Jesus, the Word, knew his thoughts and intentions, Jesus looked upon him and he loved him. In fact, Jesus loved him enough that he told him exactly what he needed to hear, and he was “shocked and went away grieving.” Jesus did not run after him; he did not yell, “Wait a minute, come on back and we will talk about this.” Jesus permitted him to grieve – he permitted the Spirit of God to continue the work of the Word of God. Jesus continued to teach the disciples as he said, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God . . . 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” (Mark 10.23-25; NRSV). Without our awareness, our possessions can come to possess us.
How did the disciples react? Mark tells us they were astounded! They asked one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible” (Mark 10.26; NRSV). Remember what the rich man asked Jesus – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It is not about what I can do, or you can do, or even what we can do together! It is about what God can do and does within us and through us! As Hebrews notes, we can approach the throne of grace – that we can do – but there we “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4.16; NRSV).
In Mark’s account, Peter then said to Jesus, “Look, we have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10.28; NRSV). Jesus then assures the disciples those who have forsaken all for the sake of the gospel shall in this age receive a hundred-fold return and “in the age to come eternal life,” yet “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mark 10.30-31; NRSV). In other words, the order of this world, the order of its values, will be reversed. In this age, the ruler would be first, but in the age to come, those who have surrendered their lives and their gifts to God will be first.
So what lessons can we draw from this account? Am I supposed to tell you that you need to go sell all your possessions and give everything to the poor? Or better yet, put it in the collection plate? This reminds me of a cartoon I saw a few days ago which has the more experienced priest offering some advice to the new priest concerning the stewardship campaign. The older priest said, “It would probably be better if you did not say, ‘Show me the money!’”
Stewardship is about more than money – it is about the whole of life – our families, our possessions, our relationships, our time, our health. Stewardship is about the proper use of the gifts that God has given us. Stewardship is about maintaining right relationships in every dimension of our lives. God had given the rich ruler possessions, but those possessions were to be used to help others. How are you using your gifts to help others? If you were to run up to Jesus, to kneel before him, and to ask, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” how would Jesus answer you?
The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates, it knows our thoughts and intentions. Jesus told the rich ruler what the one thing was that was necessary for him. It does not follow that this is the one thing necessary for us. We need to permit the Word of God to do its work in us; we need to listen for God’s still, small voice; we need to hear God whisper what is that one thing needful for us. Yes, we might be shocked, but hopefully, we will not go away grieving. Oh, that we might approach the throne of grace, receive mercy, and find grace in our time of need. When we do so, we come to understand the hundred-fold riches God would afford each of us.