What must I do to inherit eternal life?

CCC            October 14 2018                 Mark 10:17-31

I was thinking about musicals this week that had songs about money. I thought of Money Makes The World Go Round” from “Cabaret”, “Money, Money, Money” from “Mamma Mia”. I was sure there were others so, like all good researchers, I checked the internet. Of course, there was, If I were a rich man, from Fiddler on the roof, and then as I read on, the list got longer, and longer. After 33, I stopped counting. I realized money is a popular show-tune topic. It should not have surprised me. Money is powerful and problematic.

You probably figured why I was checking this out. Today’s gospel is about money, and oh what a teaching.

Let’s dig into this rather unusual story that has had people squirming for nearly 2000 years.

We read that Jesus is on the road when a man comes up to him and kneeling before him, asks ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Before, we go any further, I want to point out that this is the only story where someone comes up to Jesus and kneels before him and asks a question of faith. The other accounts of people kneeling before Jesus are people who are sick, or who have a great need. So, this says something very positive about this man. He is obviously sincere. He shows a great respect for this wandering rabbi/teacher, by kneeling before him.

Jesus first answered by challenging him by asking him why he calls him good, ‘there is no one good but God alone’. Biblical scholars skirt that statement. No one wants to say that Jesus did not see himself as God. It would seem to go against our Trinitarian theology. I think there is no problem in recognizing that Jesus was a Jew, and no way would he have seen himself as God. He was humble and honest. He felt a closeness that confirmed for him that he was a son of God. It was not till later that the Church recognized that Christ was one with God.

All that having been said, how does Jesus answer our sincere man’s question? ‘You 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; Honor your father and mother’.

He answers then that he has kept all these since his youth.

The question he was asking, with all sincerity, was pointing to it but his answer confirms it. This young man is not only sincere but he has done all that he could to be faithful to God. He has a deep yearning to be faithful to God. I think the gospel writer’s comment that Jesus looked at him and loved him shows that Jesus saw the yearning in his heart and loved him for it.

As a minister who has walked with many people over the years who were questioning and yearning to be more faithful to God, I can assure you, Jesus response is normal, it is near impossible not to love the questioning yearning heart.

I would like us to stop here and ask ourselves what do we yearn for? Are we like this man, yearning for God’s kingdom, for that is what eternal life is all about? What motivates you in life?

This man challenges us to ask ourselves, do we yearn to be close to God, to be one with God?

Let’s continue with our story.  Jesus 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.” That was too much for him and he left shocked and grieving.

Jesus then goes on to tell his listeners that it will be hard for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!  It will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Many probably have heard that there was a gate in the Jerusalem wall called Eye of the needle that was very small. A camel would have a really hard time getting through it.

Guess what? That gate never existed. It was just a story made up because you cannot have Jesus saying the wealthy cannot make it into heaven, now can we? What would the Church do without its rich benefactors? What would we do with our several million-dollar campaign to rebuild the spire on our cathedral?  Not a very good approach, we need a major gift from you, by the way, you are not going to heaven!  That certainly would not work!

What do we do then with Jesus’ challenge to this man and his comments about how difficult it is for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God?

What was Jesus getting at about money? What is it about money that it does something to us, that it somehow affects our relationship with God?

Does money somehow make us feel more independent and less dependent on God and others?  I have read that people with more money, give proportionately less then people with less money. Somehow, when you have it, it is harder to give a way.

Now, there is no point in saying, I am not rich so those words don’t apply to me. Let’s be honest, not too many people are going to say they are rich, because there is always someone with more money, and some with lots more money. The reality is though, that the hold of money on us grows very gradually. It does not start at a million! It starts with whatever we have.

So what can we do?

I remember reading, years ago, an idea to help the faithful Christian, who is aware of the dangers of wealth, to manage their giving. It is called the graduated tithe. It assumes a basic 10% tithe and then puts a system in place that curbs against the natural inclination of selfishness and greed.  The plan is pre-established allowing you to make a more honest decision if you ‘come into’ a lot of money that you did not expect to receive, or if you have received a salary increase. I won’t go into the math, you can find the idea on the internet. What is good about the idea though, is that it counters the tendency to always find more things we can spend on, with a system to help keep a check and balance on that tendency. The graduated tithe then becomes like a spiritual disciple.

The Gospel story then has so far two important points for us.

This man in the gospel story challenges us to ask ourselves, do we yearn to be close to God, to be one with God?

Secondly, Jesus’ teaching about the dangers of wealth and this man’s reaction to Jesus invitation, challenge us to look at our own relationship to money.

If we go back to our story, we have a little twist. Peter starts to worry what are the implications for him and the others that are following Jesus. You see, Peter and his contemporaries thought that wealth meant God had blest people who were rich. With what Jesus had just told them about it being VERY hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, they are now without clear markers of what it means to be blest.

Jesus reassures Peter and the disciples that they don’t need to worry. There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, who won’t get it back, a hundred times over, and in the age to come eternal life.

Jesus wants to make it clear, discipleship, faithfulness, enriches the individual. I don’t think we are talking in an accounting type of way, otherwise his warning about money would not make sense. As we follow faithfully, as we are sensitive to the impact of wealth on our lives, and take measures to correct it, we will be blest and we will draw closer to God in this life and the next.

Peter’s need for reassurance then, reassures us now. As we seek the Kingdom of God, as we seek to faithfully follow God, as we not let our money control us, but let it become a means of blessing, we will be blest with sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers in the faith. We will draw closer to God and God’s kingdom, now and forever more. We will be blest.

Sisters and brothers,

let us learn from the young man and seek with all our heart to follow God.

Let us be warned by Jesus to not let money get in the way.

And let us walk in the promise that we will be blest.               Amen


  1. Reply
    Elaine Barling says:

    I have many times pondered this story, even as a child. This sermon sheds a light on what Jesus really was trying to do in his ministry; help people to see how worldly things can keep us from a deep relationship with God. Having great wealth or even small wealth can make it easy to put our spiritual lives in the background. Thank you for reminding me how this works.

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