23B Mark 10:17-31Rich Young Ruler and Relationships
Holy Spirit, Gulf Shores October 14, 2018
Bishop Steven Charleston recently posted on his Facebook Page a short piece called, “ How we are remembered.”
“Not many of us will be remembered for what we have done, though we may have accomplished a lot. As important as we once were, what remains is not what we have built, but who we have inspired. The lives we touched will go on. The minds we opened, the hearts we cherished, the spirits we set free, It is in relationship that our names are remembered. It is in how well we shared our love that will live on in ways unchanging.”1
This reminds me of the beginning of Paul’s second letter to Timothy. “I am grateful to God.. whom I worship.. as my ancestors did..when I remember you constantly in my prayers… recalling your tears… I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” 2
Do you think about what will be your legacy, how people will remember you? I think of Phillips Brooks, a legendary preacher, writer, social activist, innovator of modern architectural and liturgical tastes at Trinity Copley Square in Boston, briefly bishop of Massachusetts before his early death at age 58. When you see his life size, six feet four-inches statue at Trinity Boston you realize what a formidable, physically imposing man he was. Of all his accomplishments, he is now most remembered for one short poem he wrote one night on a visit to the Holy Land, “O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie” What is your “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” your life in your words by which you will be remembered? /
What about John Chrysostom, named a golden-mouth preacher of his day in the early church, archbishop of Constantinople, recognized among the Three Holy Fathers, with Basil the Great and Gregory of Naz/i/an/zus? Those who read Morning Prayer say his prayer of St. Chrysostom near the closing of the service each morning, “you have promised that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them.” That is how we remember him./ What is your Prayer of St. Chrysostom, your prayer by which people will remember you when “two or three or gathered?’/
How about St. Francis who was honored with the blessing of your beloved animals here last Sunday? He changed the church’s view on our ministry to the poor and the sacredness of God in Nature, but he is still best remembered for his prayer just attributed to St. Francis. “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.” So, we still do not even know if he ever wrote it. What is your Prayer of St. Francis, your relationship to those in need that brought peace and love by which you will be remembered?
My Grandparents, Joe and Annie Whaley, whom by the way I am named after, mostly raised me. They nurtured me and cared for me and loved me without conditions. My greatest memory of my grandmother, however, is one single event occurring one of the days I went back to college in another state. I always go to say goodbye to my grandparent at their nearby home on my way out of town. I only stay a few minutes. This day my grandmother is playing canasta with her sisters. I kiss her goodbye and leave. Then I remember I have forgotten something. I go back to their house and my grandmother is not at the card table. I ask her sisters, “Where is she?” After a pause my Aunt Julia whispers, “She went upstairs to her bedroom to cry. She misses you so much when you are gone.”
I suddenly realize how little time I spend with my grandparents on these infrequent visits home from college. I am usually absorbed with my friends or schoolwork I bring home. I become acutely aware of how much my grandmother loves me. I run up the stairs, hug her one more time, and witness her love embarrassed by her tears. I can still feel today that love my grandmother showed me with her secretly concealed bedroom tears./ Where are your tears of love by which you will be remembered?
It is possible that you may be most remembered like my grandmother for just one small act of love?/////
We first meet the rich young ruler as children in Sunday school. Matthew is the only gospel that says he is young, and Luke is the only one who calls him a ruler. Since our familiar friend makes an appearance in all three synoptic gospels, this must be a true story, even though most of us wish that the young man had stayed home. Barbara Brown Taylor3 says because of him, we have two of the hardest sayings in the whole Bible: “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me…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.” /
This is not just a story for the Rockefellers or the Trumps. We all know that by the world’s standards, everyone in this room is “rich,” and we are all the man in this story.
Our young man is posed, respectful with impeccable manners. He kneels at Jesus’ feet. He addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher.” Then he lets it slip about his wealth, “What must I do TO INHERIT eternal life?” This is a rich person’s question, someone thinking about a trust so his children can avoid probate at his death, considering whether to develop a charitable lead or a charitable remainder trust for his estate, not preoccupied by lesser questions such as, “Where can I find work?” or “Where can I find food for my family today?” 3
Jesus looks down at the man kneeling before him and sees an exceptional, successful hard-working leader, who innocently asks about achieving a good portfolio in heaven as he has been developing on earth. He sees eternal life as a good investment.
Jesus, as he so often does, reframes the question in terms of living in “God’s kingdom” today, in the present, not just in the future.5 Jesus tries to get him back on track by saying, “You know the commandments,” and without hesitation, the young man recites half of them and adds a little extra one, “You shall not defraud.”
“Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth,” he says, and Jesus looks directly into his eyes with unconditional love. Jesus looks at him with those X-ray eyes that parents have. He loves what he sees, a real seeker. Some translations use the Greek word agapao indicating that Jesus actually reaches out and gently “caresses” him. This is the answer that we often miss in this story. Jesus loves the young man. Jesus comes into relationship with the young man and sees what is lacking. He is missing a real relationship with God and especially others.
Jesus’ examination then goes deeper into his soul, and like a physician making an astute diagnosis, he says, “You lack one thing.” Jesus sees a man whose relationship is to his wealth, not to the people around him.
How the young man’ heart must be pounding. At last! Jesus will write a prescription to satisfy that deep hunger, the answer to the emptiness, the longing that money and work cannot buy.
Then like the blade of a skilled surgeon’s knife, Jesus cuts to the heart of the achievement issue, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Wow! Do you feel the impact of that?.
“At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.”///
Do you wonder what happens next? What is the ending? My midrash is that the man follows Jesus from afar but at some point, as we all do on our journey, is moved even more by Jesus’ teachings, or maybe by the events of Good Friday. He decides to give all to the poor. He meets up with some of the disciples he has gotten to know and after the resurrection is present at Pentecost. I believe this ending because this true story is so well told in all the gospels. I think the rich young ruler also told his own story to so many people that most Christians knew it when the gospels were written. Telling our story is a part of following Jesus.///
One last message in this story is is often missed. When Jesus tells the man to give everything away, Jesus is simply speeding up the process that he and each of us will go through. We have no choice but to give it all away, for it most certainly is not going with us into eternal life. Even if we plan on leaving everything to our children, we are still giving it all away.4 //
Today Jesus offers a prescription for the kingdom of God, right now, right here, not at a later date. Jesus looks with love into the eyes of each of us as he did for the young man and asks us to come and follow him, turn our lives and our will over to him, tell our story, be in relationship with him and in relationship with each other, especially with those around us who are in need.// ////
This is how we will be remembered.
1 Steven Charleston Daily Facebook Meditation
2 2 Timothy 1:3-6.
3 Stephen Crotts, “The One That Got Away,” Lectionary Homiletics, October 2000.
4 Barbara Brown Taylor, “The Opposite of Rich,” The Preaching Life, 121-126.
5 David Howell, Feasting on the Word, year B vol. 4, pp. 164-169.