I write this on our community’s Match Day. Match Day is a wonderful opportunity to support a variety of important area organizations with contributions matched by half. And for many clergy people, this time of year is also stewardship season, when congregants are asked to pledge gifts of time, talent and treasure for the coming year.
Coincidentally, the gospel passage read at Church of the Covenant this past Sunday was the story of the rich young man from Mark chapter 10.
“As Jesus 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?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 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.”’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 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.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
“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!’ 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! 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.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
“Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ 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, 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. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’”
This passage is an interesting one for a number of reasons. First, it is the only example of Jesus calling someone to follow him and being denied. Additionally, through the years the church has attempted to interpret the reading in black and white terms. For example, what Jesus is telling us to do is to sell all we own to help others. Or he believes having wealth is a bad thing. Or salvation comes only from God’s grace, and not our participation in the kingdom.
In reality, the passage does not provide easy answers or instructions. Its gift is that it makes us think and reflect on our own lives and desires.
Despite all he had, Jesus tells the rich young man that he lacks one thing, which would appear to be trust in God. If he trusted God, he would have sold all he had and become a disciple. And Jesus’ analogy of the camel and the eye of the needle does not imply wealthy people will not enter God’s kingdom. The implication is that we all possess things that are stumbling blocks to our engagement with the kingdom. These are the things that we hoard but need to let go of – money, social standing, material items, drugs and more.
Perhaps you have done some personal reflection on what you may be lacking or what you need to shed as you planned a Match Day gift or a donation to your house of worship. It is not an easy thing to do – yet the passage from the Gospel of Mark is a help. Jesus looked at the rich young man in his confusion and anxiety and “loved him.” And he loves us as well.