Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (proper 23) October 15, 2006.
"Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, 'You lack one thing'" (Mark 10:21). This Sunday's readings speak these words to us, naming our own lacking. We are the rich man; we cling tightly to all that we are and all that we have been given. We are the ones to whom the prophet Amos was speaking who turn "justice to wormwood." The good news in these great texts, where law and gospel ride closely together, is that we begin with Jesus loving us and end with all things being possible with God. Perhaps our preaching can be about learning what it might be to lay ourselves bare before God and trust that through Jesus, our great high priest, we will receive mercy.
These readings act like a sort of microscope, narrowing our vision from all that might distract us from the One who gives life. They pull our gaze from all the glitz and glitter of the world toward the light of Christ. In all three readings, God turns us away from all things that might turn us away from God so that we see, with clarity, God and God's goodness.
Throughout the Amos text, we repeatedly read about the gate. "Hate the one who reproves at the gate," and you "push aside the needy at the gate," and finally, "Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate." In most communities, the gate was the center of all life--commercial, political, and social. By talking about the gate, Amos proclaimed that the faithful life is not limited to worship and prayer but includes the daily acts of spending our money, engaging in politics, and treating our neighbor. While we are narrowing our gaze to the One who redeems and saves us, God opens us to the whole world.
In both Amos and Hebrews, we are told that God knows our transgressions and how great are our sins (Amos 4:12) and that before God no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account (Heb 4:12). These words make it so painfully clear that we are poor, rotgut sinners. With Luther, as we narrow our focus onto Christ, we know that only through Christ are we made right. With God all things are possible.
Today is the first in a series of readings from Hebrews that concentrate on the image of Jesus as the great high priest. This is a primary christological image for the writer. In the Jewish Levitical tradition of the time, the high priest granted people access to the throne of God and gave the people identity and connection to a community of faith. Jesus as the high priest is like this, but more. Jesus is not disconnected but is more than sympathetic because he was incarnated as one of us, tested and tried, but without sin. Like the high priest, Christ gifts us with access, identity, and life.
In Mark, a rich young man seeks out Jesus to hear how he might inherit eternal life. He calls Jesus "good teacher," showing respect and the beginning of faith. He was also probably showering Jesus with compliments to seek a beneficial answer. While this story occurs in all of the synoptic Gospels, Mark alone states that Jesus loved this rich man. And Jesus says to him, "You lack one thing...." The word translated in the NRSV as "to lack" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) might imply a sense of failing, to miss out on something by their fault. (We later hear this root describing the widow who gives much out of her lacking or poverty). Mark describes with detail how the rich man responds: with shock, gloominess, and grieving, because he had so many possessions.
Interestingly, we don't know what he may be grieving over. Is he sad because he has chosen to follow Christ and realizes all that he has to give up in this journey? Or is his grief that he is so entrapped by his wealth that he will be unable to follow Christ? We do not know how it ends, but we assume that it is the rich man's refusal to follow Jesus rather than the grief over all that he will lose in following Jesus. Perhaps this is because we assume that, should he follow Jesus, he will leave all of his life with utmost trust and joy. We would like to imagine that our following Jesus into a life of discipleship, even in our leaving stuff behind, will be full of happiness. The good news of this story might be in naming the truth that, even in moving to something miraculous and life giving, there are still moments of grief. In our grief Jesus is present, and, as we move to the future, Jesus will continue to love us and fill our lacking.
How might this be a word of hope for our many communities in transition who are grieving all that must be left behind despite the many benefits and joys of the future?
Jesus then speaks with his disciples about the difficulty of the wealthy to inherit the kingdom. He gives the bizarre metaphor of the camel in the eye of the needle. While much is made about some gate outside of Jerusalem, it is better to read this as hyperbole. It would be terribly hard to get a camel through a needle; so too for the rich.
The disciples, realizing what this hyperbole may mean for their lives and this gospel, are in awe. Who then can get in? Jesus says, "For God all things are possible." Jesus seems to know that all of us will never leave all that we must leave behind for Jesus. Yet for all of us, even for those who live in fear and arrogance and selfishness, God will make it possible. And as God frees us from the things in our lives that hold us captive, God liberates us to trust God's possibilities for us. Even in our lacking (and our excess), or perhaps because of our lacking, God is with us. SKO
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Author:||Olson, Sara K.|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2006|
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