17As he 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 kingdom of God!" 24And 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."
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."
What must I do to inherit eternal life, says the rich man to Jesus. Which is a little weird since in family inheritance the big thing you have to do is basically try to still be alive when the other guy dies, right? but it’s a question that, in it’s utter cluelessness, reminds us that inheritance is more about the wealth and generosity of the one who is giving than the worthiness and efforts of the one receiving.
The rich man in his entitlement and comfort and confidence in his ability to obey the commandments comes and says to Jesus…if you could just give me a personal salvation management program, that’d be awesome, I can take it from there. So Jesus looks at him, loves him and then totally freaks him out. Ok, Sell all you have and give it to the poor. Shocking.
So, this is the same Jesus who just a chapter ago was telling us to cut off our own hands and feet and yet we are shocked when he implies we too should cut off our bank accounts?
How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God says Jesus. How hard it is for we who are self-reliant and smug to accept how utterly dependent we are on God. How hard it is for those of us who don’t actually need God to see God. How hard it is for us for whom comfort: material, financial and physical insulates us from the daily bread reality of our creator. How hard it is for those of us who dedicate ourselves to being good social justice activists to surrender to a God who is likely unimpressed with our busyness. How hard it is for the powerful to see life abundant in giving away power. How hard it is to die and be re-born.
So who can enter the kingdom on their own? Who among us has done the hard things necessary to inherit eternal life? Who among us has sold all we have and given it to the poor? Who among us has…as the reading from Mark a couple weeks ago suggested…who has hacked off our own feet and hands to ensure our salvation?
If we try to read the discipleship texts from Mark as a personal salvation manual then we imagine that it is we ourselves must cut off our hands and feet, gouge out our own eyes, give away all our possessions and shrink our camel-sized selves down to needle eye size. But in fact it tends to be God who does this for us...who prunes us, feeds us, cuts us and our bank accounts down to size and shapes us. It tends to be God and not us who does the impossible.
This is how it happened with the disciples. The disciples had no personal plan or technique for following Jesus. When the disciples were called it looked more crazy than planned. God slipped into skin and walked past them calling out ‘follow me’. dropping their nets they didn’t count the cost, make a plan and follow the steps. There wasn’t time…they just got swept up into the radical love of a God who comes to us in flesh and blood. Everything they had known is changed. What they had held dear and clung to was cut away when they dropped those nets. And you know folks thought they were crazy.
But that’s what happens. Crazy things go on when we are part of this Kingdom of God. For instance, I never had any desire to befriend evangelical pastors. If I’d tried to figure out on my own how to get saved and Jesus had said Nadia, for your personal salvation management program you must become friends with Evangelical pastors. If Jesus had said you must preach at their churches, collaborate on a prayer book and develop fondness and respect for people whose theology and worship looks like its from another planet entirely. If Jesus HAD said this to me I would go away shocked and grieving for I have many snotty opinions about these people which I’m honestly as comfortable with as that rich guy was with his wealth. I am perfectly happy not liking evangelicals
I’m also quite happy to not like Missouri Synod Lutherans, especially – for instance- ones who have radio shows in which they tear apart my sermons and basically call me a heretic for being a woman pastor. Who is exactly the guy I met yesterday at the conference where I was speaking, presumably he was there to get more fuel for his little radio show. I knew he was there and I did not want to engage with him. Why? He spend an entire half hour of a radio show picking apart my sermon on the ELCA Churchwide assembly. I had never met him, but I don’t like him. Yet God paid this very little attention yesterday when, despite us both, my LCMS detractor – slash – conservative Christian radio host and I had a 30 minute long conversation which was filled with grace and honesty and in which twice he shed tears. We spoke of how desperate we both are for the gospel. Desperate enough to hear it even from each other. It’s weird that beautiful conversation happened at all since it’s basically impossible.
And yet God went ahead and did this for me—Put me and my enemy face to face yesterday. And in the past 6 months God has sent me a bunch of Evangelicals to be my brothers and sisters, to have meals with, to love. This is what happens when God does the impossible and, like the disciples, we get swept up into it. Our Small Catechism says that I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort come to my Lord Jesus or believe in him but the Holy Spirit has called me though the Gospel and enlightened me with the spirit’s gifts.
The impossible is what happens when, the Holy Spirit calls us through the gospel and enlightens us with the Spirit’s gifts. I believe that by my own understanding or effort I cannot sell all I have and give it to the poor. I believe by my own understanding or effort I cannot have beautiful collaborative collegial relationships with Evangelicals, or have grace-filled conversations with my enemies. For me this is impossible, for you this is impossible,…for God, not so much.
So like the rich man…what must we do to inherit eternal life? Still be alive after the other guy dies. In other words in this life of discipleship – we will die and be reborn again and again in the death and resurrection of Christ as God sweeps us up again and again into the crazy impossible. So watch those bank accounts brothers and sisters, and those snotty opinions, and your so-called enemies and those plans and management programs. Because seriously….who knows what crazy thing’s gonna happen.