Friday, November 2, 2012

Healing the Dis-ordered Life

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:

Mark 1:40-42
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.

Mark 5:22-24
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.

There was something about this man’s possessions that was causing him to stumble, and so Jesus told him to cut it off. Better to go through life with little to no personal possessions than to be prevented from the eternal life that this man is seeking.

The cure Jesus prescribed was not just to get rid of his possessions, but the man is to give the money from selling his things to the poor. The cure for self-centeredness, if that was indeed the man’s problem, is to focus on other people – hence the focus on giving the money to the poor. Money and possessions can lead to self-centeredness and isolation – if a person thinks that they accomplished everything alone or if they think that they don’t need anyone else. Money can be isolating, if a person loses touch with what other people are facing or if they lose sight of the suffering of many people. Jesus could have told the man to give the money to the synagogue or to an organization, but instead he said to give it to the poor. So the man would have to seek out these poor people in order to give them the money.

This story is often thought to be an extreme test for the rich man to prove himself worthy of eternal life, but if we think of this story as a healing one then Jesus’ command is instead a very difficult prescription to cure a dis-ordered life. This story is often used as a judgment against the rich; the problem with only taking it that way is that it is then easy to say to ourselves, I’m not rich and so this has nothing to do with me. However, if we take this story to be about dis-ordered living, then it is applicable to all of us. We all have something that causes us to stumble.

The rich man goes away shocked and grieving. Most people assume he does not do as Jesus asked, but we do not know. All we know is that he reacted negatively to Jesus’ request. Healing change can be quite hard!

Jesus himself said that he came for the sick, not the well. We are all dis-ordered in some way, in need of healing that only can come from God. No one is perfect, no matter what outward appearances or cultural conventions tell you.

The question for us today is: how are we or our lives dis-ordered and in need of healing? How is Jesus challenging us, as individuals and as a community, to make changes that lead to healing growth? I cannot answer this question in a sermon – this takes discernment both as individuals and as a community. Remember, nothing that we can do will earn us eternal life – but the things we can do can bring healing growth for us and for our communities.

Healing can be hard, but we are not alone – we have family, friends, members of our church, and God. Healing can be hard, but God is present with us – to lead us in the right direction and to lend us the necessary strength. When we find out what our prescription is for healing change, we might become overwhelmed like that rich man. But do not lose hope, for remember that while- For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27)

Inspiration from Commentary on Mark 10:17-31 by David Lose

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.