A deeper and deeper letting go!
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 14 October 2018
We’ve just heard the story of a man coming to Jesus to ask a fairly standard Jewish question:
‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
Jesus replies that he needs to keep the commandments.
The man says how he’s done that and is still not satisfied:
‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’
Remember that the view in the prevailing culture was that a person’s riches were a sign that they’d been blessed by God. So the expected answer from Jesus would have been that the rich young man should increase the amount of money he gives away – then the blessing of riches would bring a double blessing on the man – blessed by being rich, blessed by being generous!
But instead Jesus probes this man’s heart and invites him to:
‘Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow
And when the man hears this he is shocked and goes away grieving!
It’s always important to place any passage of scripture in context – in the context of the broader sweep of scripture as well as in the particular book, letter or gospel that its in; and at this point in Mark’s gospel from which this passage comes, Jesus is on a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. He’s been on this journey for a while!
What Jesus is teaching his disciples on this journey is what it means to be one of his disciples; and what he encounters at every step is resistance!
The stories of resistance are multiple – a few weeks ago we heard Peter rebuke Jesus for saying what he did; we’ve also heard the disciples try and keep children away from being blessed by Jesus; another week we heard how the disciples were arguing with each other about which of them was the greatest; and now this would-be-disciple has simply too much to hold on to and so goes away grieving.
As long as he was negotiating on the basis of the commandments he was doing well, he was hopeful he might gain eternal life. But negotiating with God in this kind of way is a far cry from what Christ is on about. His invitation is to give ourselves to a relationship with God as deeply and as fully as we can – without any reservations!
This can be illustrated by the way Mark tells the story.
Firstly the man runs up to Jesus, kneels in front of him and presses him with a question. Its an attitude that Jesus commends to us time and again – to persist, to be bold, to put ourselves if you like in God’s path. Even if running or kneeling are no longer options for us, we must just keep putting ourselves in the way of God!
Secondly Jesus, looking at him, loved him. It’s so easy to miss this moment in the story when Jesus looks at him and loves him. We’ve heard how resistant those around Jesus are on this journey. None of us can overcome this resistance in us by doing anything except letting the gaze of love fall on us. We don’t know what happens to this man as a result of this encounter of love – yes, at this point he turns away but we don’t know what happens in the end. We too must let the gaze of love fall on us – because it’s only then that our resistance will be overcome.
And then thirdly, Jesus invites the rich young man to follow him. He doesn’t just say ‘Go, sell what you own, and give your money to the poor’, but he goes further and invites him into a relationship with him – ‘Come, follow me’.
Not only is the rich young man shocked at this but so too are the disciples! And the more Jesus tries to explain, the worse things get!
First Mark says that the disciples are perplexed; then he says they are greatly astounded; and finally Peter
‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’
as if to say in exasperation ‘What more can we do?’
And that’s the problem! All the time that’s what people around Jesus are thinking – we too have that mindset!
The heart of being a disciple is not about what we can do! Rather the relationship that Jesus invites us to have with God is one in which all the holding, all the loving, all the gazing is on God’s side – and what’s asked of us is a deeper and deeper letting go.
I think that’s the heart of being a disciple of Christ.