Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
The encounter between Jesus and the Rich Young Man is one I have turned back to, time and again; it features in both Matthew and Luke’s gospels too; and it tells us something about priorities, and motives. – whatever our status, hearing the assertion that it is virtually impossible for the wealthy to get into heaven is one which disturbs and resonates in equal measure.
The story is multi-layered, but all too often we look at it and assume it is a simple story about the way God looks upon rich people – blessed are the poor after all.
But this story is much, much deeper than this. And Jesus is saddened by the man’s inability to shake loose from his chains.
This letter to the Hebrews could well have been addressed to that rich young man...
As I explained last week, we do not know who the writer of this letter/sermon is; but we do know he cuts to the heart of things: in this passage the word of God is alive and active!
There is nothing that can be hidden from God
And it is to God we must give an account of ourselves – thus we see the tie to the gospel as the rich man – approaches Jesus – clearly troubled and anxious about something
His question is to the point “What must I do to receive eternal life”
Jesus had spent the majority of his time with others being asked to heal; to relieve and to soothe. For this young man to come along and ask about eternity must have been a heart stopping moment of joy for Jesus. And of course, Jesus knew the heart of this young man; he wanted to tease out of him the nub of what was really bothering him.
When Jesus gave him the received answer: “keep the law”, the man is not satisfied
He is a righteous and good man
He has studied scriptures
Been faithful and true to all the commandments
But in his hearts he knew there was something missing
Something not quite right
He was discomfited
And Jesus looked at him
And Jesus knew him
And Jesus loved him.
Up to this point in the narrative he could have been any one of the hundreds in the crowd
But now we know that he is different
He is wealthy
And he loves being wealthy and all it gives him
And he cannot let it go
He cannot let it slip
He is bound by it; chained; restrained and restricted by his wealth.
His despair at being told to sell it all; give it away and follow Jesus is too much. And he is unable to let go
So he turns to leave
To walk away...
If Hollywood was writing this script at the last minute he’d turn back – leave his wealth behind and claim the life Jesus is offering him – and they would all live happily ever after.
But this isn’t Hollywood; this is scripture; and scripture teaches us about life.
Not soap opera life; not movie town life
No happy ever after ending recorded here
Instead, Jesus turns to his disciples and makes a sweeping statement which seems totally at odds with everything else they know about Jesus
How hard for rich people to enter the Kingdom!!
This is shocking enough
What follows is worse
It’s a conundrum: easier for the rich to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.
To the disciples, this is so impossible; so devastating a suggestion that we can feel their despondency – and identify with Peter as he wails – “but we’ve already given up so much!”
What on earth are we doing?
Why are we following?
Is there no one who can be saved?
We have already given up so much
Jesus, as ever is turning things upside down
Those who are first in this world will be last
And the last will be first
God knows us
The things which test us
The things that we love
Things are not important
Things are replaceable
People are not
Things are useful and used
People are loveable and loved
Don’t confuse the two!!
People were created to be loved
Things were created to be used
The reason why the world in is CHAOS
Is because things are being loved
And people are being used
The writer to the Hebrews said, “have confidence then, and approach God’s throne where there is grace – grace to help us just when we need it”
Grace is there to help us, when like the rich young man we cannot let go of that which holds us back.
Jesus, God, knows exactly what is on our hearts; and, God gifts us grace – riches that will support us.
Grace: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
Grace – enough to lift us and inspire us; to move us from where we are, to where we need to be.
We do not know what happened to that rich young man – we are told he went away, grieving for he had many possessions.
What do you think?
Did he think about it and start to give away all of his things?
Did he carry on as before, loving God, being faithful but always aware that something was missing?
We can only speculate about him; in our own lives though, we can do as Jesus asked
Not literally giving everything away – but looking at our priorities; loving God, knowing we are beloved by God; and remembering what else Jesus said: “for God, all things are possible”.
That is our hope; that is our answer
In the age to come – eternal life.