Devotional Message: The 21st Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 23B (10/14/2018)


Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Psalm 90:12-17

Hebrews 4:12-16

St. Mark 10:17-31

Semicontinuous Series

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

Psalm 22:1-15

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith, that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead, we may follow the way of your commandments and receive the crown of everlasting joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Text for This Sunday

10:17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before [Jesus], and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 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.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 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.” 22 When 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!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It 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?” 27 Jesus 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.” 29 Jesus 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, 30 who 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. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

St. Mark 10:17-31, New Revised Standard Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: On Camels and Needles and the Possibilities of God

The crux of this troubling passage from St. Mark is that a camel simply can’t go through the eye of a needle. Period. The average camel weighs between 880 and 1,300 pounds. The same average camel stands approximately 6’1” at the shoulder and 7’1” at the hump. The average eye of a needle weighs, well, nothing. And it typically is about one tenth of an inch wide, and about one half of an inch tall. It just can’t be done. Not without causing irreparable damage to said average camel.

So Jesus is getting ready to head out of town and this faithful, earnest man takes him aside: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is not the question of a scribe or a Pharisee, seeking to trap Jesus in a corner or turn the crowds against him. It is the plea of a faithful man. I have kept all the commandments since my youth. All of them! Which of us with any kind of a functioning memory could make the same claim? This man is miles ahead of us all in the race of life, and he is thinking about the end game: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

It is an odd question. After all, what can a person do to gain an inheritance? There certainly are some actions one can take to steal an inheritance that belongs to another. And stories abound about heirs whose life choices have caused them to be written out of the will — to lose their inheritance. But an inheritance is not grounded in something the heir has done. An inheritance is grounded in the love of the one who makes a will; who loves enough to use wealth as a vehicle to bless and sustain an heir who is beloved.

And so Jesus looks at him. (Can you picture Jesus with loving eyes?) Jesus loves him. (This is the only place in St. Mark’s Gospel where Jesus is described as loving a specific individual.) And then Jesus says to him, “You lack one thing.” What is this one thing? We actually don’t know. Neither Jesus nor St. Mark tells us. Bible readers have speculated over the years: does money prevent him from loving God wholeheartedly? Does he not care sufficiently for the poor? Is he not willing to go wherever Jesus asks him to go? We don’t know exactly what one thing he lacks. But upon hearing these words of Jesus this once faithful and earnest man leaves shocked and grieving. He just cannot do what Jesus asks him to do.

It is too late for him, of course: he has left the scene. But Jesus says to the disciples (who clearly know the relative sizes of camels and needles…), “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Indeed one cannot do anything to gain an inheritance. But every day, inheritances are granted.

Which makes me wonder: what would I not leave behind, to follow Jesus? My family? My home? My congregation? My pension accumulations? My enjoyment of flyfishing or bluegrass or baseball? My political or social beliefs? What is that one thing I lack? And what if it is impossible — or at least seems impossible — for me to give it up?

“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” I’m going to think on that some this week. I hope you will too.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. Why does Jesus ask this man (and, literally, no other man in the Gospels) to sell all he has and give it to the poor?

  2. How does this passage describe a difference between this man and Saint Peter?

  3. What must the other disciples have learned from Jesus’ response to Saint Peter?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. What, in my life, would it be very hard (if not impossible) for me to leave behind?

  2. How might my life be different if following Jesus becomes my most important priority?

  3. How might God be able to make this happen for me? (or better yet: despite me?)