Here comes that man again. Running up to Jesus with a question about eternal life.
I wonder what you think about him.
He may not be so different from you and me. He’s a good man. A religious man. An honest man. Maybe even a kind man.
We call him a rich young man, even though Mark never calls him young – which isn’t so different from a lot of us. And Mark doesn’t say he is rich. Mark actually says, “he owned much property” or “he had many possessions.”
Just like we add things to the story, we may forget parts of the story. We may forget that this sincere, worried man is looked at carefully by Jesus. Perhaps Jesus even knows him well, since Jesus seems to know his socio-economic circumstance so thoroughly. We may forget that Mark tell us that Jesus loves him.
What we do remember accurately are those dreaded words from Jesus’ lips: “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give your money to the poor.”
We know what the man will do. He will turn away, holding on to all those possessions. Some of us grieve with him, as we watch him walk away from Jesus, all his heavy weight of possessions still with him, because we know his choice could be ours as well.
Many of us are nervous about Jesus’ words about money, because while some of us have more and some of us have less and some of more or less than we used to have, we still know that we have more than most people, and certainly more than the rest of the disciples that Jesus had already sent out with only one the clothes on their backs. But, before we start figuring out how to hold onto our 401k’s or grumbling about how the church is always talking about money, let’s notice that some versions of this text don’t even mention money; they just say “sell all that you possess and give to the poor.”
And let’s notice that this is a healing story.
In Mark’s gospel, all the people who run up to Jesus and kneel before Jesus and ask Jesus for a blessing either have some terrible illness or are demon possessed. And almost every time that Jesus orders someone to “go”, as he does this man, it is in relation to a healing.
What healing does this rich man need? He has a soul sickness. Why would he come kneeling so urgently before Jesus if he didn’t sense that despite appearances – despite his piety and faithfulness – his is still missing something from his life? It might look like he has everything, but he senses that something is still missing from his life, something important, something that’s a matter of life and death.
This man is possessed by his possessions. Jesus offers him healing and as he so often does he tells how the healing will occur. “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” If the man gets rid of all that stuff he has collected, he he can focus on what really matters – living by faith in God and in solidarity with his neighbor. That would be having treasure in heaven, right here and now and eternal life.
This is a healing story. And it is the one time in the gospel of Mark when the healing does not take place.
Mark wants us to imagine the grief and the soul sickness of that man walking away from Jesus still possessed by his possessions because he wants us to imagine that Jesus already knows us and sees us. He wants us to see Jesus really looking at us and to hear that Jesus loves us.
Jesus is doing the same thing for us that he did for that man. He sees the soul sickness in us. He knows what is possessing us and he is telling us what we need to do. He is telling us what we need to give up or give away. He knows – and really we know – it is a matter of life and death. Right here and now and in the kingdom to come.
Now, let’s be clear. This isn’t about us earning or working our way to salvation. We are saved only by grace through the faith of Jesus Christ. Nothing we do, or give away, gets us that.
What Jesus offered that rich man and what he offers us is healing. And Jesus is telling us what we need to be well. A doctor offers us medicine and we don’t take it. It doesn’t mean the medicine didn’t work. It means we didn’t do our part. Jesus offers us healing, and we don’t take his prescription…. well, with God all things are possible…but why not do what Jesus asks? After all, he is offering that if we do what he asks right here and now, we can focus on what matter most, right here and now.
I don’t know what possesses you. Pretty often I try to pretend I don’t know what possesses me. But Jesus knows. Jesus sees us. He looks at us and knows everything we – good, kind, faithful, religious people – are holding onto. And because he loves us he names whatever idol we’ve created. He names all that stuff we’ve bought, collected, inherited, bargained for, splurged on, depended on and hoarded. Some of it is tangible. You know that it is. But an awful lot of what possesses us are endless, soul-sucking, time gobbling, joy smashing, neighbor negating clutter of habits, opinions and reactions that take up way too much property in our mind and soul and heart. Jesus knows it costs us a lot to hold onto and he is asking us to cut it loose.
But, if you can, just turn and look back at Jesus. He loves you and he speaks words that bind only to set us free, that wound only to heal, that kill only to make us alive again. You will hear him say: with humans, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible – right here and now and in the life to come.