Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Job 23: 1 – 9, 16 – 17
Job Replies: My Complaint Is Bitter
Then Job answered:
2 ‘Today also my complaint is bitter;*
his* hand is heavy despite my groaning.
3 O that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his dwelling!
4 I would lay my case before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments.
5 I would learn what he would answer me,
and understand what he would say to me.
6 Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; but he would give heed to me.
7 There an upright person could reason with him,
and I should be acquitted for ever by my judge.
8 ‘If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
9 on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn* to the right, but I cannot see him.
16 God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty* has terrified me;
17 If only I could vanish in darkness,
and thick darkness would cover my face!*
Hebrews 4: 12 – 16
12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
Jesus the Great High Priest
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested* as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Mark 10: 17 – 31
The Rich Man
17 As 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; Honour 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.
23 Then 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.’
28 Peter 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.’
We all of us have needs, and it is only right that we look to God to meet them.
The reading from the Letter to the Hebrews ends with the words, 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Now in the Gospel reading the man who has been referred to as the Rich Young Ruler, boldly approaches Jesus with his need to know what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. But I think the grace he received was a little unexpected.
I wonder what he did expect. Did he want Jesus to rubber-stamp his lifestyle? Did he want Jesus to endorse his set of values so that he could carry on with a sense of “I’m okay.”? Why did Jesus respond by quoting the 10 Commandments? Is there a clue in Jesus’ response that tells us something?
What we do know is that he was speaking to Jesus, whom St John calls the Word made flesh. The Letter to the Hebrews says, 12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
If that is the effect of God’s word, then if there was anyone who could expose the thoughts and intentions of the heart it was the Word made flesh, Jesus.
Here is this young man kneeling at Jesus’ feet and Jesus reads him like a book. The scripture says Jesus loved him.
Jesus cannot tell a lie so he tells the man exactly what he has to do inherit eternal life.
Vs 21 ’ 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;
Jesus knows what is more important to this man than God is, and he tells him to get rid of it. He then adds a second thing:
- then come, follow me.’
Jesus could have simply said, “Come follow me”, but he knew that the ball and chain of wealth to this particular man was too much. He would endlessly be dragging it along in a desperate attempt to keep up as he tried to follow Jesus.
Does this mean that all wealth is a bad thing? No. This is an intensely personal assessment of this particular man, a man kneeling at Jesus’ feet, a man whom Jesus looks at and loves. It’s not money that is the root of all evil; it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. And it is so because it can empower our independence from God. Jesus knew that in this man’s case that was his problem.
“O no,” you might say. “Jesus said 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.’ It’s the riches that are the problem, not a love for them.”
But I ask you “Are you getting religious on me?”
What on earth do I mean by that?
Well I’ve said before that there are only three ways we can relate to God and only one of them is appropriate. Either we are:
- Licentious – i.e. we relate to God by ignoring God – by denying and opposing him. OR we are
- Legalistic – i.e. we want a set of religious rules – do’s and don’ts so that we can determine exactly how to manage God. OR we are
- Gracious – i.e. understand that we owe God absolutely everything and that God is the first priority in our lives.
The Rich Young Ruler was certainly not licentious. Far from it. But he was religious. He wanted the do’s and don’ts. As a good Jew he wanted the legal framework in which to operate in order to please God. You can always manipulate rules. You can’t manipulate a gracious God to whom you owe everything.
Some people have said that the Eye of the Needle was a gate in the city walls of Jerusalem and that, that was what Jesus was referring to. It was big enough for a camel to squeeze through but only if the camel was free of any load. This is a nice story. It fits neatly. It means don’t be burdened by the weight of riches and you’re in.
However, there really is no proof of this gate’s existence.
It seems Jesus was simply telling the truth. If you’re wealthy, there is a good chance that your station in life will tempt you not to depend upon God.
The story illustrates the challenge of wealth and asks us the uncomfortable question as to what controls us.
Is my relationship with God such that my mindset is prayerful and I instinctively refer everything to him? Or do I fit God in where I think he would conveniently fit?
Is God the very centre of my consciousness or is God and anything to do with God an addendum to my lifestyle? That would be the religious approach: I may not pray much, but I go to church on Sunday and I contribute financially to the parish. Nice, but legalistic because it smacks of a decision to fit God in where it is most convenient to me.
You see it’s not as though the Rich Young Ruler was a licentious person. It’s not as though he gave God sporadic attention. He tells Jesus plainly regarding the 10 Commandments, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ He wanted to find a way to please God. He was just not prepared to submit his entire life to God.
The fact that Jesus did not call the young man he loved back when he walked away tells us a great deal. He let him go. It’s an indication that our life with God is not static. Someone once said that there is no standing still with God. Our relationship with God is either improving or deteriorating.
You see God is not after our money. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the scripture says. He doesn’t hang around our homes with a begging bowl. God is after a great deal more than our money. He is after you and me. All of us, lock, stock and barrel. And yes, when our love for God increases our giving will probably increase dramatically but that’s not what the Gospel lesson is about.
Wealth represents the greatest temptation to live a life of independence.
Why do you think that some of the wealthiest people are some of the most tight-fisted? I once made a comment that we have many people on the Parish role who hardly ever come to church, and that when contacted, they manage to slip in the fact that they give money to the church. The Parish Recorder overheard me and in a quiet moment came up to me and said, “Jonathan, the only people who give money to this church are the people who attend this church.”
That didn’t surprise me in the least. When you conduct an analysis of per capita giving in parishes on the North Shore it is the people in the poorest areas who give the most – not percentage-wise – literally.
The challenge Jesus presented the Rich Young Ruler with remains a challenge to each one of us today because, well, what is wealth? How long is a piece of string? In comparison to the whole of humankind we are very wealthy if we own a motor car.
The challenge is to each and every one of us. In a sense it only has anything to do with money because, as I said earlier, having a great deal of it increases the temptation to live apart from God.
The young man approached Jesus confidently because he was a confident person. He just didn’t expect the response he got. As they say, be careful what you ask God for; he might give it to you.
16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
God really does want to meet our needs – not our wants – our needs. Approaching God boldly requires a boldness of faith
But without faith it is impossible to please God; for he that comes to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him, says Hebrews 11: 6.
You see, making friends with God can be a dangerous business. God can be quite inconvenient, but that is only when we want to hang on to things that are more important than He is to us.
But when our need is genuine, and we are prepared to be completely flexible, acknowledging him as Lord of every aspect of our lives – then we will receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
God bless you.