Sermon for SMHP, Year B, Proper 23, Oct. 14, 2018
17As 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?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You 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.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”
21Jesus, 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.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth* to enter the
the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God !
25It 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 .” 26They
were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For
mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” kingdom of God
28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus 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, 30who 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. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
So here’s what I’m wondering…
What happened next? We have this story. Most of us have heard it before, and likely all of us have heard the phrase “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.”
We know the rich man came to Jesus and Jesus told him to sell everything and give the money to the poor, and that the young man “went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
But isn’t it deeply unsatisfying not knowing what happened next?
Like, is this the end of that man’s story? He asks about the kingdom, Jesus gives him a really difficult task to do, he refuses…end of story?!
I don’t know about you, but I’m looking for something more. Because single encounters with Jesus shouldn’t be the end of the story. What makes Peter’s story, and the story of James and John, The…Sons of Thunder!...what makes those stories so compelling is that their single encounters with Jesus aren’t the end of their stories.
The Peter who rebuked Jesus for his passion prediction is the same Peter who preached that gospel narrative on the first Christian Pentecost.
The Sons of Thunder are all thunder-y throughout the gospels, but they are also the ones whom Jesus wants with him in important moments. Peter, James and John are the only witnesses to the raising of the daughter of Jairus. They are also the only witnesses to the Transfiguration.
Their story didn’t end the day they wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan town. The story of our relationship with Jesus doesn’t end the day we do something stupid, or selfish, or I daresay this sanctuary would be empty this morning.
The rich man’s story didn’t end that day on the road, when he asked Jesus a question and didn’t like the answer. (And who hasn’t been there?)
So I thought I’d spin out a possible ending for this little Morality Play, based on all of the other stories we have of encounters with Jesus that aren’t the end of the story.
Like, maybe Jesus continues up the road a bit, and they stop in a town. They go to the home of the wealthiest Jew in town, knowing that the family will put them up for the night—Middle Eastern Hospitality Code—and the Lord of the house comes to greet Jesus and his apostles.
And guess who it is?
It’s the man. Your Bible might say “the rich young man” or even “the rich young ruler,” but the text actually just says he is “a man.”
The man who owns the big house on the edge of the town. Which is not a surprise to Jesus, because he’s Jesus and he knew which house he was going to. But the man is stunned to see Jesus again and just stands there for a moment…until he recovers his manners—Middle Eastern Hospitality Code—and calls for water for the washing of their feet, and the preparation of a celebratory meal.
The water comes, and the servants set about washing the feet of the disciples, but the Lord of the house moves his servant aside and kneels to wash the feet of Jesus. They say nothing, just engage together in the last-as-first model of discipleship, the man awkwardly engaging in this ritual as the washer, for the very first time, having been waited on by servants his entire life.
When the dinner is ready, the man invites Jesus to the place of honor, next to his elderly parents. The disciples take their places, and soon all are enjoying good food and plentiful wine.
Seeing a good opening, the Lord of the house turns to Jesus and says, “Lord, I want to follow you. But who will feed and shelter all of the people who work here? No one else in town has the means. And who will care for my parents? I am all they have.”
And Jesus looks at him once again, and feels love for him, once again. “You have many things, my child,” Jesus says. “You have many reasons, and many possessions, and so much to consider. It is not easy to let any of these things go, in order to commit fully to discipleship. Full discipleship requires you to be willing to let all other things go. You are not yet ready or able to do that.
“What can you do?”
The man thought for a while. He was used to his life looking a certain way. He was comfortable with the way that it looked. But he also wanted to be part of this Jesus Movement taking his village by storm. And he liked the idea of inheriting eternal life.
“I could sell the field beyond the house and give the money to you and your disciples!” the man said to Jesus.
“Close!” said Jesus.
The man thought back to their original conversation. “I could sell the field and give the money to the poor!” he cried out with enthusiasm. “And I could invite them to come here for their gifts and I could throw a banquet for just the poorest people in the village!”
“Now you are getting there,” Jesus told him.
And that’s all we get for now. Still an unsatisfyingly unfinished story. But discipleship is like that. Some days you’re really good and you think, “hey, I’ll do this great thing for someone else. Maybe someone who really needs it.”
And some days you are madly in love with your i-Phone and your computer and your dinners out and you can’t imagine giving those things up…even for Jesus.
And make no mistake, absolute discipleship requires the willingness to give up your i-Phone. All that stuff gets in our way, and Jesus wants us to be free to focus.
But Jesus also understands that we are flawed human beings who struggle to follow his call. Who struggle to do the right things and say the right things and give up the right things.
And Jesus loves us. Just as he loved the man. Loves us in spite of who we are and because of who we are.
Jesus loves us and Jesus forgives us and Jesus gives us second and third chances to get it right. Because Jesus knows that we are trying to get it right.
And when we don’t get it right, Jesus loves us and Jesus forgives us.
That is always the next part of the story. Always.