A sermon based on Mark 10:17-31
Preached on October 14, 2012.
Today’s gospel lesson from Mark is a story about how hard healing can be. Sometimes the cure is harder than the disease, so to speak. Right now you may be thinking, healing? What gospel did Anna think she read because the gospel that I heard was about a rich man and how it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Yes, I heard that same gospel too, and it was about healing.
What makes me so convinced that this lesson is about health as much, if not more than, wealth? I read a commentary that inspired me. Apparently, everywhere else in Mark’s gospel, when a person kneels in front of Jesus to ask him something it is always a request for healing – either healing for themselves or for a loved one. Here are two examples:
40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24So he went with him.
In both these stories and elsewhere in Mark, the person making the supplication is kneeling and they are asking for healing. The leper is asking to be made clean, and Jairus is asking Jesus to save his daughter from dying.
The rich man in our story also kneels, asking for healing even though that doesn’t sound like what he is asking. The man asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17) The first thing that strikes me about this question is that Jesus reacts to being called “good teacher.” Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18).
Why would Jesus have such a reaction to being called good? Could it be because it was linked to the request about eternal life? By emphasizing that no one is good but God alone, Jesus could be suggesting that there is something wrong with the question that the man asks. The man asks Jesus because he thinks Jesus is good enough to know the secret to earn eternal life. The man asks what must I do – which means that the man thinks that there is something he can do to obtain eternal life. Jesus said that no one is good enough and so entering God’s Kingdom can’t be about being good enough but has to be about something else.
Jesus asked the man if he had kept all of the commandments, and the man said that he had. At that point the text tells us that:
“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.” (Mark 10:21)
Jesus loved the man. To others the man might have been rich, successful, blessed, self-righteous, or self-occupied. But to Jesus he saw a beloved child of God who was trying to do all the right things but was lacking one thing.
What was he lacking? By all appearances, the man lacked nothing. He had money and possessions, which would have given him some status, and the man had ethical behavior under the law.
What did the man need healing from? Only Jesus knew for sure, but I believe that the clue is in what Jesus prescribed: giving away his possessions and following Jesus as a disciple. I believe that the man’s problem was self-centeredness and isolation from other people. This is a dis-order in that it is not the order that an ideal life should take.
The cure from self-centeredness is to do away with whatever is making you self-centered. In Mark 9:43-48, Jesus tells his disciples that if their hand causes them to stumble, then cut it off, and if their foot causes them to stumble, then cut it off. It is better to go through life maimed in this way than to be prevented from the Kingdom of God in the next life.