Sermon for Proper 28
Sunday, October 11th, 2009
Preached at Holy Trinity, Thornhill
Daniel F. Graves
Text: Mark 10:17-31
As the disciples travelled along the road, a young man, a man of great piety, and of considerable wealth approached Jesus and asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus queried him: Have you kept the commandments of our ancestors? Yes, sir, I have, since my youth. A moment of silence followed, and then Jesus gazed into his eyes, indeed into his heart, with a penetrating gaze. Not a gaze of condemnation, but a gaze of compassion, a hopeful longing gaze, a gaze of divine love. And with this gaze he gave him two tasks: Sell it all, everything you have… and follow me. Leave it all behind, all the cares and troubles that come from wealth laboriously acquired and zealously guarded. Let go of it all, and follow me.
St. Mark is not speaking of an evil man here, but a man who lived a holy and pious life, and certainly a man who, if he followed the commandments of God walked not only in the ways of righteousness but also in the ways of justice. But one wonders what he really desired when he approached Jesus on that day so long ago. Recall his words, what must I do to INHERIT eternal life? Inherit eternal life. Did he mean to possess it as he possessed his wealth? And perhaps he did believe that just as wealth was something to be owned, perhaps also was eternal life. Why would he think any different. What must I do to acquire it, own it, make it my own? Perhaps he also had a glimmer of hope. Perhaps, just maybe, his wealth was indicative of a blessing already upon him. Perhaps his great piety had already earned him what he sought. Perhaps, he asked himself, have I already purchased everlasting bliss through keeping the commandments, through my piety, through my holiness?
It seems to me that in this brief encounter Jesus attempted to change the entire way this young man thought about the world. But was he ready for it? The rich young man approached Jesus seeking to be taught, calling him teacher, but was he ready for the lesson Jesus was about to teach? Was he ready to have his world changed? Was he ready to receive the love offered by that loving gaze? Sadly, he was not. And are we ready for it?
Are we ready to have our worldview challenged? Do we realize when we approach the Lord in prayer, seeking for an answer to the things that trouble our souls, that we are asking to be challenged? Are we open to having our understanding of the Gospel challenged by opening our ears to the challenging words of our Lord and master? Have we not kept the commandments of our ancestors? Do we not come week-by-week to this altar? Do we not place an envelope in the plate? Do we not claim our pews and seats within this place with confidence of our inheritance? Teacher, what must we do to inherit eternal life? Are we prepared to have our Lord gaze upon us, with those loving but challenging eyes and tell us what we really must do? Will we hear his words, will his love penetrate our frigid, obdurate hearts? Will we set aside what prevents us from following our Lord, or will we turn with the young man, and return to a life of safety and security?
What is it to which we cling? What is it that we possess that anchors us in the cares of the world and prevents us from hearing the words of that timeless call, “Follow thou, me?” For that young man in Mark’s Gospel, it was the mistaken belief that eternal life was something to be possessed. He fundamentally misunderstood the fact that eternal life is not something to be owned, like his earthly wealth and possessions. Nor was it something that he could earn, through acts of piety or even justice and mercy. Rather, it is, through God’s graciousness, something to be lived into. Consider the loving eyes of Jesus, looking upon this young, foolish man. God already loved him, God already longed to bestow blessing upon him. “O dear, dear friend, focus not on what ties you to this life, but gaze upon me and look into my eyes, the eyes of love,” says Jesus, “and you will know eternal life. Leave behind the things that sparkle and distract your gaze, look upon your salvation, and follow me.” Oh what words of love and hope, and oh how our hearts break to know that this youngster could not receive them. He was rich with wealth and piety, but truly poor for he rejected the blessing of God.
And so the call goes out to us today. Eternal life does not begin sometime after we have crossed the way from life to death. Rather, it breaks through into the present reality of this life as we follow the way of Jesus, leaving behind the anchors that moor us to our limited potential. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. What can Jesus have meant by this oft-repeated proverb, but this: With our eyes on what anchors us to this transitory life, we too shall live a transitory, finite existence. But, oh, if we shift our gaze and turn to the one that beckons us to follow him on the road of life, what wonders we shall see, what graces we shall know, what joy we shall experience, even in the midst of the loss of what we leave behind.
What is it that holds each one of us back from following that way? I suggest that it is the mistaken belief that this world is home. But it cannot, and never can be home. It is but a road on which we travel. We are a people on the way. We may acquire wealth but it will slip through our grasp. We may receive great honour of position or state in life, but these honours are soon forgotten and the moment of glory passes. And even our loved ones and family, our friends, they too, pass through this transitory life and depart from our eyes. The world changes, and the things of this life pass away, but God changeth not. Even as the things of this world pass through our grasp, the longing, loving eyes of Jesus are ever fixed on us, reminding us that we are on a journey, a journey home. A journey in which we travel together, in which we taste eternal life, not as something that we can earn, or hold, or possess, but rather as a new and glorious reality that God is opening before us as we live our lives along that road, following Jesus.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Says the young man. “How can I possess it like I possess wealth and piety. What must I do?” Lovingly, longingly Jesus gazes at him, and each one of us, “Turn from the foolish belief that you can own it, work for it, or possess it. Lay down your fear and your angst that makes you cling to the things of this world, and follow me. It is not possible for you to do anything to possess eternal life. It is beyond human power. Rather it is through the graciousness of God, for with God all things are possible.
c. 2009 the Rev. Daniel F. Graves