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More of the Look of Love

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 10/14 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Mark 10:17-31. 




In 1967, Dusty Springfield sang:
The look of love
Is in your eyes
A look your smile can't
disguise
The look of love
Is saying so much more than
Just words could ever say
And what my heart has heard
Well it takes my breath away

In the first scene of today’s gospel, we hear of Jesus’ look of love and the response he gets from a very religious, self-sufficient, well-to-do man. 

Right from the get-go, Mark tells us that this gospel passage is about discipleship because the Greek says Jesus is “on the way,” not “setting out on a journey.” In Mark’s gospel, that is code for walking the way of the cross because Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified. Early Christians were referred to as those belonging to “the Way” (Acts 9:2).

All we know at the outset of this gospel is that this man is humble, for he knelt before Jesus and addressed him as “Good Teacher.” He is sincere. Kneeling showed deference and respect to a teacher of the Law. There is nothing that indicates that the man was being sarcastic or was trying to test Jesus. When that’s the case, Mark tells us outright, as he did in last Sunday’s gospel about the Pharisees testing Jesus. 

What was Jesus getting at when he asked why the man called him “good?” Was he trying to help him see that since only God is good and the man called Jesus good, that therefore, Jesus must be God? Or was Jesus identifying more with sinful humanity? We don’t know. 

What about the idea of “inheriting eternal life?” First of all, there is nothing anyone can do to make themselves eligible to inherit anything. Can you imagine going to the head of a wealthy family and telling that person you want to be included in the will so that you could have part of the inheritance? That’s ludicrous and I’m sure you would be escorted out of that person’s presence in short order. You’re either a member of the family or you’re not.

Just how does one inherit? Someone has to die. In the case of inheriting eternal life, we know it’s the Lord Jesus who is on his way to die, but I doubt the rich man understood that since even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t understand. 

Did you notice that the commandments Jesus cited come from the second table of the Law; having to do with relationships with other human beings? After all, life in the kingdom is all about relationship: relationship with God, relationship with each other and relationship with our community. 

So far, so good or so he tells Jesus. Here comes the lynchpin to the entire passage. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said…” It’s the look of love. This is far more than a glance. Jesus is looking into the very heart of the man. In spite of what the man is lacking or maybe because of it, Jesus loved him. The man’s attachment to his money and possessions precluded him from having treasure in heaven because you can’t have it both ways. 

You have to respect this man. Despite all the religious obligations he fulfills, all the laws he follows and his great wealth, he recognized that something was missing. He felt an emptiness and a desire for more. Have you ever experienced that?

Jesus confronts the man with his weakness—that of his captivity to possessions that prevents him from living into the full life of the kingdom. Jesus names the power that binds the man and invites him to step into freedom. 

Jesus tells the man to sell his possessions and give to the poor (which means his possessions are possessing him), then come and follow. To give away money is to win a victory over the spiritual power that oppresses him. Although that’s part of the command for this man, Jesus’ focus is on the command to follow him. It is the same command he gave his disciples and the same one he gives us. If we want to be real Christians, it means letting go of what stands in the way of our relationship with him and following Jesus wherever he may lead. 

In the midst of the imperatives of “go…sell… and give” is the promise “you will have treasure in heaven.” These commands followed by the promise are not sequential as much as they are inseparable. Giving up of possessions is not a prerequisite for discipleship. It’s the consequence of discipleship, carried out in a very concrete way. 

The man was shocked by Jesus’ words, grieving and left. Full involvement with Jesus called him away from this world’s priorities to God’s priorities. The imperfect tense of the Greek suggests the man was still in the process “getting,” possessions, just as he wanted to “get” eternal life. It may be that his possessions had him and he didn’t want to let go or maybe he went away sorrowful because he had decided to sell all and follow Jesus. 

Jesus says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 23). As usual, the disciples did not understand. What Jesus told the rich man and what he just said about wealth and God’s kingdom were completely incomprehensible, shocking concepts for the disciples. In their day, riches were a sign of God’s favor and blessing. If a rich man couldn’t get into the kingdom of God, especially such a pious, obedient-to-the-law kind of man, then who could?

But salvation is not about just getting into heaven, but living into the kingdom of God in the here and now. It’s not hard or even really, really hard, but it is impossible for us to do. Author Ched Myers writes, “Jesus contends that the only way to salvation for the rich is by the redistribution of their wealth—that is, the eradication of class oppression.” We share what we have with others so no one is in need, so all have enough as the early church did in Acts chapters 2 and 4. 

Jesus addresses his followers as “children” expressing love and encouragement. Only those who recognize their need and helplessness can receive the grace offered by God. As children, they only enter the kingdom of God because they’ve received it as a gift, not as something they have earned.  

Wealth brings with it a false sense of security, which Jesus illustrates with a completely outrageous, impossible event—a camel being able to go through the eye of a needle. Camels are the largest animals found in Palestine, while the eye of a needle is the smallest possible conceivable opening. It just isn’t going to happen!

Have you ever been close to a camel? They’re huge! Just try riding one. Let me tell you the story of Pat, Ivy and Susu. Pat is a family friend, who my kids have always called Aunt Pat. She came to visit us in Bethlehem. We went to the park one day and there was a man with a camel. We could get on and take a short ride for a small fee, so we did. It was scary! You get on when the camel’s down on its knees, but it is a distinct adventure as he gets up. The back legs go up first, then the front legs, so the rocking and rolling is an experience. Pat and I will never forget our time of riding the camel named Susu. 

Just as Jesus looked intently at the rich man, so now he looks at his disciples. As Mark wrote, “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible’” (v. 27). Jesus never did answer the question of “Then who can be saved?” He flipped it and instead answered, “Who can do the saving?”

So Peter, feeling pretty good about himself and his companions speaks up. After all, they’ve left everything to follow Jesus. Jesus responds with an answer for everyone, not just Peter. The “you” is plural. They will all get plenty of rewards for their sacrifices. Everyone who has sacrificed for Jesus will receive 100 times more than given up in this life and eternal life in the next age. 

Wow, but doesn’t that seem to run counter to our experiences in this world? The community of disciples may provide an alternative family in place of those they left behind, but the rewards of discipleship seem to be the way of the cross, not material prosperity. Besides that, one becomes a disciple because of the promise of reward, then that’s no different than the naked pursuit of material gain. If our faith is in the promise of the 100 fold return, then it is nothing more than enlightened self-interest. The reward for faith is of a different or higher order than whatever we sacrifice for it. We do not simply receive more of the same—100 houses, fields or whatever physical thing that is sacrificed. And more paradoxically, we cannot achieve a higher reward of salvation by striving for it. 

Then Jesus adds one little phrase to the list of wonderful rewards, “with persecutions” (v. 30). Huh, I bet the disciples weren’t expecting that. Never mind that Jesus has already twice told the disciples of his coming suffering and death. That is the way of the cross. It is part and parcel of living the Christian life. 

Many Christians in Mark’s church had to make a choice between faith and family but had received a larger family in the community of faith. This combines the blessings of living as brothers and sisters in God’s family with the reality of persecution. Being part of this family means following the God who turns everything topsy-turvy, inside out and upside down in the kingdom in which the “first will be last, and the last will be first.”

What will Jesus’ look of love and call elicit from us? Will we consider the cost too high? What stands between us and Jesus? Is it wealth, our house, our recreation, our children or spouse? Are we afraid that if we really let go and entrust everything and everyone into God’s hands that we and they will lose out? It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t think his sacrifice on the cross was too much. 

I know how hard it is to let go. My son, Christian, took a long time to grow up. It wasn’t till his late 20s, after he and his wife married, that we saw changes. Anyway, long before Marisa came into his life, shortly after Ray and I married and moved to Rhode Island, I got a call from my daughter Sarah. She was extremely upset because her brother, Christian, mouthed off to a policeman and landed in jail. What were we to do? We couldn’t afford bail and we weren’t so sure that was the right thing to do for him anyway. Plus we were so far away.

It was to let go of this situation. Christian was not going to church or concerned about his faith at all. I prayed so often that God would do whatever it took to get Christian’s attention. When this happened, what did I do? I panicked. I felt like whatever God allowed was fine, but not this. Those of you who are parents know how even when our children are grown, our hearts still get broken.

I’m sharing this with you because sometimes our family becomes like an idol for us. We often hear people talk about putting their family first. As important as family is, should it be first? Is our family that which we cling to so mightily, that would cause us to walk away grief-stricken from Jesus?

The Christian life is one of walking the way of the cross, following Jesus, as we respond to his love. God has designed us together, as the church, to be part of the solution to the many ills of our world: hunger, sickness, pain, want and loss. Following Jesus means feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the stranger, visiting those in prison and helping those recovering from hurricanes. Many are struggling emotionally and spiritually as the rich man was. They work to be right with God and we have the peace and grace of God to offer as the solution. 

God’s church is responsible for helping to meet the needs of hurting people in the name of Christ, our savior, regardless of the source of their pain and suffering—whether it is spiritual, physical or both. Parts of our country have experienced yet another devastating hurricane, Michael. Both through Lutheran Disaster Relief and Thrivent, there are opportunities to help those who are trying to rebuild their lives. 

We are making progress as a church in feeding the hungry and are in the process of becoming a distribution center for the 5 and 2 ministry. Keep your eyes and ears open for more ways in which you can be involved in this ministry for these children for whom Christ died. 

“The call to follow Jesus does not constitute an additional obligation in life, but rather judges, replaces and subordinates all obligation and allegiances to the one who says, ‘Follow me’” (James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark). Jesus looks at us, loves us and calls us to follow him. 

Amen.

Resources

David Lose, davidlose.net
Rob Myallis, lectionarygreek.blogspot.com
Rob McCoy and Eric Fistler, pulpitfiction.com
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