The Very Rev. Tom Callard – October 10, 2021
I think that a large part of why we read the Bible and listen to the Bible is to find these universal truths which apply to our life. We turn to the scriptures to hear about ourselves and about God. And generally the stories in the Bible are exceedingly relatable to the human condition. For Jesus teaches about hunger, and we’ve all been hungry. Jesus teaches about healing, and we’ve all been hurt. Jesus teaches about pardon and forgiveness of sin, and we’ve all sinned and we all have done something for which we need to be pardoned.
And so the question for today’s Gospel and the story of the rich young man is do we all see ourselves as rich? Can we see ourselves in this passage today? I’m sure if I ask people to raise your hands if you think that you are among the rich, very few of us would put our hands up. We would say – I’m not rich. You’ve got this poor widow who gives away all she has while the rich give away very little. I’m the widow, we would say. And so we hear stories from the Bible about riches and wealth, and say- all this talk about money is really meant to apply to someone else.
And because we don’t generally consider ourselves rich, it’s easy for Christians to ignore what Jesus says about money. And you and I both know that Christians do not follow Jesus’s words – to sell our possessions and give the money to the poor. It’s a passage people ignore. Or they say- he’s not talking about my life, he’s talking about the 1%. Plus it’s not realistic to sell all that I have. Plus I’m not rich.
But if you were to go to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where I served as a missionary years ago, and you were to walk around the streets among the marginal communities where people live in little cardboard shacks which are five feet across, with tin roofs, and no water or electricity, no health care, no covid vaccine, and no hope for anything more, if you were to be in that community even for a little while, you would start to think, well maybe I am rich.
As a missionary in Honduras, you can start to get this impression that you are one of the people. And after living there for a while, I think I convinced myself that I was a Honduran. But then from time to time things would happen that would remind me that I am not.
I remember one day that the church which sponsored me sent down a care package that had these new Nike shoes which probably cost $80 back in 1998 when I was living there. And I was so grateful because they were much better than the shoes I had been wearing.
And the first day I put them on, I wore them to the church where I served, which was in a very poor community. And the people there said, Padrecito – you shouldn’t wear those shoes. In the first place, they said, someone might rob you or kill you for your shoes, which I hadn’t really thought about but which could have been true. People killed others for shoes. And in the second place, they said, all people will see of you when they meet you are your shoes. That’s all they will know of you. It turns out that my new shoes were a stumbling block. And a sign and symbol that I was not one of the people, because nobody could afford shoes like that.
And I realized – I’m rich. I have access to new $80 shoes. The Hondurans I served with can’t get those shoes. If I get sick, I can fly back to the United States. They can’t fly back. If I want to eat a nice meal, I go out. They don’t go out. By all measures and standards I was the 1% to these Hondurans who were in my church. Back here, of course, in the midst of all this I’m not rich. But in fact, compared to most people in the world, we are Kardashians. We are the man in the Gospel. We are wealthy beyond our wildest dreams.
Which is to say – this passage today is about us. Despite our financial circumstances, whatever they are, we are rich. Moreover, we are, like this young man in the Gospel, trapped. We may not be trapped by wealth. But I’m sure if I ask you today to raise your hand if there is something that traps you, some behavior, some possession, some activity or obsession you have that you that you can’t give up. We would all raise our hands. Each of us has something that controls and binds us, and that, in the end, makes it so we are not free.
As Jesus would say, there’s that one thing. In this passage today, the young man goes to Jesus asking how to inherit eternal life. And Jesus tells him to follow the commandments. And the young man says he does. And then Jesus, looking at him with love, says to him: you’ve just got this one thing. You have to take care of this one thing.
So I wonder if you could take a moment and think about what is that one thing for you? If Jesus said to you today: you know you still have to do this one thing –what would it be? Maybe, if you’re like me, you’d say how can I pick? I’ve got so many.
But that one thing is bigger and it’s right at the surface and it is a central part of our life. If Jesus tells us that we have one thing, it’s going to be something that consumes us and is a part of us and demands our life and energy and time.
And Jesus invites us to see it, which is the first thing to do – to realize it and admit that it’s there. We have to claim our one thing if we want to deal with it. For me there is something so powerful about hearing stories from people who are in recovery. Because every one of those stories of someone in recovery begins with this realization of a person’s one thing.
I always remember this guy I knew who was in AA whose story began with him saying that he found himself one morning in a gutter with no money and no clue of where he was. Suddenly, he said, there he was thanking God because he knew he had reached a point where he was ready to change.
It’s a powerful moment when you’ve accepted that you have this one thing that needs to change. Because you’ve realized that your one thing is not necessary. You don’t need it for your one life. You don’t need it for your happiness. You don’t need it to survive.
That one thing stands between you and Jesus and between you and freedom, and it’s just not necessary. Jesus is necessary. That one thing stands there, and just on the other side of it is the presence of the divine which is happiness and peace and contentment and eternal life, where you can be your best self. And all you have to do is let go.
But, and this is the key, you don’t do it alone. You do it with God. You do it with Jesus. The truth is that we alone are not strong enough to overcome these challenges when it comes to changing our life. For within us, all that makes us strong and capable and charming and successful will get us pretty far. But not far enough to inherit eternal life.
And when the disciples ask Jesus today: who can be saved? They are asking him, who among us has the strength to amend their life? Who among us can change on our own? Who among us has power like this? And Jesus says no one. For mortals it is impossible. You need God, he says.
So you begin with the realization that you have this one thing, and you see it and claim it. And then in the next moment, following the Gospel, you give it to God. That’s what we see today– right at the moment the young man is standing there before Jesus and all he needs to do is to give it away, his wealth and his attachment, and put it into the hands of the lord. But he can’t.
And how interesting that we see this intimate life changing moment when the man stands there before the Lord struggling to change. We see him in this moment which was obviously difficult and painful, especially because, as we see, he can’t do it. And so he just walks away.
And there’s something here I wonder if you’ve noticed. Here’s a question- Who is the very first person in Mark’s Gospel that we hear Jesus loves? Or, to put it another way, when do we first, in Mark, hear that Jesus loves someone?
It’s here with this man. That rich young man is the first person we hear Jesus loves. The man says: teacher I have kept all these commandments since my youth. And Jesus, it says, looking at him, loved him. The first time in Mark we hear about Jesus’s love for another person is with this man, who is a stranger to Jesus, who will just walk away and never see him again.
And I’m convinced that Jesus looks at him with such love because Jesus recognizes how just hard it is to change. Just how hard it is to let go of the one thing. And Jesus knows that this man, just like us, is caught. And deep within Jesus’s heart there is a sense of desperately wanting to help him. Jesus knows this man needs love. And Jesus gives it.
Change is never an easy thing. And it requires a lot of love. And especially if we’re talking about changing the one or two big things in our life which have held us for so long. It can seem impossible. But not for God.
I wonder if it would be helpful for us to go back to this story at some point this week and to read it again. And instead of the young man in the story, let’s imagine it is us. And instead of riches, we imagine our things, the thing that holds us, whatever it is. It may even be riches.
Whtever they are, let’s bring our challenge to Jesus and tell him that we’ve kept all the commandments since our youth. And let’s hear it when he looks at us with love and says: you’ve just got that one thing. And let’s say to him: well, here you are. You take it. I’m giving it to you. And he will take it.
Sometimes we fear change because it looks like death. There are these things that have been with us for so long, things we think are absolutely essential to who we are. But they’re not. In fact, some of them might actually be destroying us. Giving them up and letting them go to God might seem like death, but in reality it is not. The opposite is true. The more we give to God, the more alive we become.