Sermon offered October 14, 2012 at St. Nathaniel’s Episcopal Church, North Port, Florida
Proper 23B: Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
The question of the day: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” . . .
One of the commitments I made when I was ordained to the priesthood was to proclaim the Gospel – to preach the Good News, the Good News of God’s love for us, the Good News about God’s gift to us of eternal life – the inheritance given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
So when I sit down to begin preparing for the sermon at the beginning of each week, to begin to study the assigned scripture readings for the week, the big question that is always in the back of mind is “Where is the Good News for this week?” And as I go through the week, I pray with these scriptures and try to keep my eyes and ears open to what’s happening, especially in our parish family life. I try to bring the Word of the week’s lessons into our life here, and also I try to take our life into the context of the scripture – always looking for the Good News of the week. But as I was on the lookout for the Good News this week, on first reading the prospect of finding the Good News didn’t seem too promising.
In the Old Testament reading, we pick-up on the story of Job. Last week we found Job down and out as Satan stripped away most everything he had that was of any earthly value. Job was rich before Satan appeared on the scene to take away all Job’s possessions – his livestock, his property. And all ten of his children were killed. Finally Job’s health was compromised, his body covered with sores. But through all this Job’s faith remained strong. When we left him last week, his heavenly treasure remained secure. Between that story and today’s story, things didn’t get any better for Job. He was further tested and tormented by well-meaning, but totally annoying and unhelpful friends. It now seems to Job that God has completely abandoned him – deserted him , leaving him alone in his undeserved misery. Not much sign of Good News here…
The Psalm for today also reflects this sense of suffering and a feeling of being abandoned by God. There are the familiar words from Good Friday – words that were repeated by Jesus as he was dying on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At this point, the Good News is yet to come.
On to the reading from Mark, the story of the rich young man who approaches Jesus with the question of the day: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s a very simple, direct question. And actually, it’s a question many of us have asked in one form or another. Yes??? Jesus’ bottom line answer to the young man’s question is likewise very direct – if not simple. It is also somewhat disturbing: “Go sell what you own, and give the money to the poor . . . then come, follow me.”
This answer is disturbing to the rich young man because he is – well – RICH! He has a lot to loose. And so, although we have every indication that he came to Jesus in all sincerity, he can’t accept the answer – or rather, he can’t respond. Jesus has put his finger on the one thing that he clings to, the one thing that comes between him and God. His riches are what stand in the way of his salvation. He went away sorrowful because he was not yet ready to let go.
For us, the idea of selling everything we own, giving away everything we have, is a rather difficult concept as well. It doesn’t come to our ears as Good News. It’s a difficult teaching, especially if we take it directly and literally. But hidden in the scripture, I think, there are a few details that will uncover a more tangible message; they will begin to reveal the Good News that this lesson holds.
First of all, there’s Jesus’ reaction to being addressed as “Good Teacher.” Jesus says: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Jesus does not lay claim to the title Son of God, and certainly Jesus never clings to a divine identity. As he apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians: “Though he was in the form of God [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men . . .”
So when Jesus objects to the rich young man calling him Good, Jesus seems to be directing the focus to the Goodness of God, a subtle hint that God is the answer to his question – God alone, God in himself. A total commitment to relationship with God is what the young man is searching for.
The Good News here is that eternal life is a pure gift that we receive through the Goodness of God – unearned, unmerited – impossible for anyone to achieve. Jesus says: “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
The next part of Jesus’ teaching is probably the most obvious answer to the question “What must one do to inherit eternal life?” He tells the young man that if he is seeking the path to life, the surest way to begin is by keeping the commandments. Likewise for us, our first step in discipleship is to obey the commandments. The Good News is that God offers us forgiveness when we fall short. The Good News is: you don’t have to be perfect to go to heaven – you just have to be forgiven.
Once again, back to the question of the day: What must we do to inherit eternal life? Let’s think about that for a minute . . . What must we do to inherit? . . . to inherit anything? . . . Being on good terms with the one from whom you will inherit is usually a prerequisite; even being in a vital, loving relationship with your benefactor would probably be the case.
But what must you DO to inherit something?
The basic answer is: NOTHING. Yes, someone else must do something . . . Someone must die. An inheritance is something given to us upon another’s death. And herein lies the unltimate Good News! Jesus DID die so that we might inherit eternal life. We just have to know Him. And then we just have to accept his gift.
Jesus loves each of us – he loves us unconditionally. And this leaves us with two basic questions: Will we accept his love? And then how will we respond to his great love?
For the rich young man, acceptance and response meant letting go of his attachment to his money.
What are we being called to let go of?
What may be standing in the way of our inheritance of God’s gift of eternal life?