Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23, Year B
October 10, 2018
Lessons: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people know that only Jesus can help them remove anything—or the one thing—that stands between them and God’s kingdom.
Key Scripture: 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
This week’s gospel lesson is a stewardship text, to be sure, but it is certainly much more than that. It’s a discipleship story, it’s a story about the way of Christ, it’s the story of one man’s encounter with Jesus, and it’s a story about surrender. You may very well find other approaches to this gospel lesson, as well.
As a stewardship lesson, this story is complicated. Does it really mean one should sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus as a mendicant monk or nun? Can it be that this illustration applies only to those followers who possess wealth, and if so, what constitutes “wealthy”? What does it say to us that the rich man went away grieving because of his many possessions? Yep, there is plenty of fodder here for a stewardship sermon or teaching, but there’s also ample opportunity to get lost in the weeds or stuck in a needle’s eye.
As a discipleship story, this week’s gospel certainly points to the truth that following Jesus is not for the faint of heart—just ask Peter, who is bemoaning the fact that he and the other disciples have left everything to follow Jesus. Will it still be impossible for them to enter God’s kingdom after all they have laid aside? What about modern disciples? Do we even have a prayer?
If we look at this week’s gospel as one man’s story of an encounter with Jesus, it begins to make sense in a way that can help us articulate our own stories. The rich man was clearly serious about desiring to inherit eternal life. He falls at Jesus’ feet — not exactly a gesture one would expect from someone of his financial (and likely social) stature — and asks what he needs to do.
Jesus lists the commandments, and the rich man responds that he has kept all of these from his youth. Clearly, he’s aware of the law and faithful to its adherence. Then why does he bother to ask Jesus? I’d say that most of us feel as if we are pretty good people, too. We don’t murder, steal, or cheat on our partners. We try to honor our parents, and we aim to look at people in the best light (well, most of the time—even though it’s tough in today’s polarized cultural climate). Most of us could say that we share many things in common with the rich man, even if we aren’t sure what constitutes “rich” or having “many possessions.”
Notice how Jesus responds. He isn’t judgmental or “preachy.” He looks at the man, loves him, and then tells him exactly what prevents him from his desire. One thing stands in the way of this would-be disciple and the eternal life: his many possessions. Jesus instructs him to sell everything, give the money to the poor, and come and follow him. The rich man cannot let go and surrender himself completely to his Lord.
The questions for us today are: What are we unable to surrender? Is it our agency? Our possessions? Our illusions of freedom and control? What else is Lord of our life? Could it be work? Sports? Even so, Jesus looks at us and loves us, knowing full well how hard it is to let go and surrender ourselves completely in order to enter the kingdom both now and in eternity. Yes, what is that one thing that stands between us and Jesus? Finally, are we willing to let it go, or will we walk away grieving?
Consider using the epistle lesson to write a fresh order for Confession and Forgiveness. These words about God’s word convicting us and shaping us, followed by the exhortation to approach the throne of grace confidently, make for an excellent framework for this important part of corporate worship.
Explore the lesson from Amos with your youth. How does this ancient text apply to our current situation? How are the poor trampled upon today? What would it look like to seek justice, and how would that help one to truly live?
This week’s focus verse is Mark 10:31: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Invite the children to define a “winner.” What makes someone a winner? Is it always coming in first? Being number one? Jesus presents another idea of winners and losers in today’s gospel. How is it that losers come in first place in Jesus’ eyes? Invite the children to think of people who may be losers in the world’s eyes. How are they winners in Jesus’ eyes? How are we called to work and walk with them? Finish with a simple prayer to help us all honor the ones who come in last in the world’s eyes, knowing that Jesus has a special place for them in his kingdom.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
In today’s gospel lesson, the one thing the rich man can’t part with was his possessions. All of his “stuff” keeps him from following Jesus fully and faithfully. What might be preventing you from following Jesus with all your heart, mind, and body? What will it take to let that “one thing” go?
Stewardship at Home
Make this a week to practice letting go of something that may be standing between you and Jesus. Perhaps it’s clutter. Maybe you work too hard and too long. Perhaps you’ve been too close with your resources. This week strive to let go of that something—whatever it is. Pray for Jesus to guide and love you, for the Holy Spirit to strengthen you, and for God to help you release your attachment.
Here’s a look back at our 2015 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/10/who-can-be-saved/
And here’s the 2012 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/10/what-do-you-lack/
Photos: opensourceway, irish, Creative Commons usage license and © f9photos – Fotolia.com. Thanks!
Note: Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2018, Rev. Sharron Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire: firstname.lastname@example.org.