Lectionary Reflection: 20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
October 10, 2021*
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.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Mark 10:21-22
You are most likely among the wealthiest of the world’s citizens. Now before you fall off your chair in a fit of laughter, hear me out. Even if you recently graduated from seminary and are paying back student loan debt that feels more like a mortgage payment, or even if your pension has taken a huge hit over the last few years, you are wealthy. And even if you’re a part of the 47 percent rather than the 53 percent, you are still considered wealthy by the world’s standards. You clearly have access to technology and connectivity that most of the world’s citizens do not have. Still not too sure about your wealth? Click here and enter your income to see where you stand on the Global Rich list. You might just be surprised.
My point is this: No matter where you fall when it comes to wealth and possessions we North Americans all have something in common with the rich man who approaches Jesus in this week’s gospel lesson. Most of us are blessed with abundance. We have roofs over our heads, food in the pantry, transportation, more than enough clothes to wear, and a host of gadgets and toys. We have access to education, healthcare, and cultural activities and recreational pursuits. The amount of money that many of us spend on a latte or fast food snack exceeds what some people make in a day. We are people of privilege, and truth be told, most of us are rather attached to our possessions.
According to a 2009 article in the New York Times Magazine, there was 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space in the United States. And Boston sociologist Juliet B. Schor reports that the average consumer purchases a new article of clothing every five and a half days. Equally disturbing is the fact that, on average, American families had twice as many possessions as they did 25 years ago.
Wrapped up in the fabric of our possessing are questions of justice and equity. Since few of us manufacture our own clothing, build our own shelters, and grow and harvest our own food, we depend on others who often are not treated justly orcompensated fairly for their labor. Do we save a few dollars because it is convenient and because we can do so without considering the effect of our purchase on a brother or sister laboring in a factory halfway around the world? Do we really need the things that we purchase? Do we consider environmental consequences? Yes, it’s tough to consume responsibly and even more difficult to opt out of the consumer lifestyle as much as possible. Like the rich man, we are grieved when we consider divesting ourselves of our possessions.
The words Jesus uses to instruct the rich man to “get up” are the same used by Mark in healing stories, argues Ched Myers, in his book Binding the Strong Man. “And perhaps that is part of the invitation here: to be healed of the sickness of accumulation,” Ched writes (273). Not only is the man to be healed of his consumptive practices, he is also to divest his wealth by giving it to the poor and following Jesus. It is too much, too radical, and the man appears to refuse the invitation.
It is easy to rationalize this lesson in an attempt to make it more palatable, or again this week, beat a hasty retreat to the epistle. However, I think we ignore this teaching to our peril. To follow Jesus is to choose another path–one that runs counter to the world’s notion of success and wealth and power. The discipleship path involves recognizing that neither amassing nor eschewing possessions gains one a place in the reign of God. Only by grace are we saved. It is in stripping away all crutches and pretexts that we find ourselves and true wealth in community, justice, and the beauty of knowing how much is enough. Yes, then we realize that we have plenty, that all partake of abundance in God’s economy.
This is another difficult teaching, dear colleague in ministry, but it is also a liberating teaching. However, you approach this week’s lessons, I pray that you are blessed with clarity, courage, and conviction. May the Spirit of truth and light possess you and guide you.
Watch Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff. Click here to access this thought-provoking animated film. It might also be helpful to discuss what non-tangible things we are unwilling to put aside to walk as disciples. Consider talking with youth about how they are the deliberate targets of marketers who recognize their vast spending potential. What good might be done if some of that disposable income was shared with others through ministry? Click here for an excellent curriculum to use to help youth understand how they are targeted and groomed as consumers.
Giving It Up to Have Plenty
For this children’s time you will need the following items: a fish bowl or other large clear glass container, a few large rocks that will fit in the bowl, some smaller pebbles, some smaller aquarium rocks, some sand, and water. You will also need containers so that each child can have a container filled with some of the listed ingredients.
Give each child a container. Set the fish bowl in front of them. Introduce the concept that when we give up something we have, that the results can be really amazing, especially when we do it in the service of God. Ask the children with large rocks to place them carefully into the bowl. Tell them there is still room for more. Ask the children with pebbles to pour their pebbles in. Tell them there is still room for more. Invite the children with small aquarium rocks to add their contribution to the bowl. Next have children add sand, and finally fill in the rest of the space with water until the bowlis completely full.
The object of lesson is that when we all give what we can, we can REALLY fill something up. It’s like when every person brings an offering. Our plates are then full, and we can do more mission together than we could ever do alone.
*This reflection first appeared during the same Lectionary week in 2012.
Photo Credits: © dimdimich – Fotolia.com, © markcarper – Fotolia.com, and © mangostock – Fotolia.com.