He ran up to Jesus.
He knelt. He must have thought a lot of Jesus. He knelt in the road. He must have heard and been impressed by Jesus’ teaching. He knelt in the road, in the dust. How highly must he have rated Jesus.
Have you ever run up to someone and knelt in front of them? Can you imagine doing so? How highly would you have to think of someone before you did that?
Have you ever been asked to do something that was just impossible? Have you ever felt like you couldn’t live up to the expectations of someone you loved? Has someone you respected said that all your hard work was OK, but wasn’t enough?
His face fell. He couldn’t do what was asked of him. He was heart broken. He couldn’t learn the thing that the teacher he rated so highly wanted to teach him. He was shocked. He’d been told that he lacked something, that he wasn’t perfect.
He went away.
This morning we start a mini series in Mark’s account of Jesus’ life. Jesus has spent the last three years touring around the towns and countryside, teaching and showing the signs of the Kingdom of God by healing people and other miracles. He is now approaching the end of his life on earth, and is heading for Jerusalem for the final time. As he gets there, we are told of three encounters, three conversations, three meetings. The first is the one that we’re looking at this morning, a meeting between Jesus and a rich man. The second we will look at next week, a meeting between Jesus and two ambitious men. The third we will think about the following week, a meeting between Jesus and a blind man.
As we travel down this road, with Jesus and his followers, and as we eavesdrop on their conversations, I’d like to encourage us to put ourselves in their places. If it had been us, how would we have felt? What do those feelings tell us about what God is saying to us through these encounters?
A few moments ago, I invited you to feel along with the rich man the emotions that he had at the beginning and the end of his encounter with Jesus. It seems to me that something pretty earth shattering had to have had happened in that conversation for his emotions to have changed so much in so short a time. How did he go from one to the other? What on earth did Jesus say to him? Why did it affect him so strongly? How will it affect us?
The conversation gets off to a bit of an awkward start. The rich man calls Jesus, “Good Teacher”. This is a title very rarely used, and Jesus seems to be a bit taken aback and points out that only God is good. It’s one of those moments when Jesus really gets to the heart of the matter. Jesus doesn’t say that he shouldn’t have been called good, but he does point out the implications. If this man really thinks that Jesus is the Good Teacher, then it means that what Jesus says has divine authority. If we really believe that Jesus was truly Good, with no badness at all, then we have to take what he says seriously and be willing to obey it. That is what it means to say that Jesus is Good.
With that authority established, Jesus goes on to tell the man that he must obey the commandments. He doesn’t list all of the Jewish laws, but enough to probe the man’s integrity and the way he is with people. And he’s OK, he’s lived in line with these laws all his life.
Jesus believes him, he looks at him and loves him, maybe puts his arm around his shoulders. Here is an open hearted, faithful, engaging, enthusiastic young man. You’d like him, Jesus did.
Again, Jesus goes to the heart of the matter. He sees the one thing that might be an obstacle to this man following on faithfully. He knows what is going to hold this one back. He understands where this person thinks that safety lies. And so he tells him, “Go and sell what you own, and give your money to the poor.” “then come and follow me”
But he cannot. It is too hard. It’s like a punch in the gut. His imagination failed him. He couldn’t imagine a life without the things he had, so he missed out on the opportunity of experiencing a life with Jesus. His faith and trust didn’t stretch that far. In the end, he didn’t believe that Jesus was the Good Teacher, his actions showed that he couldn’t accept that Jesus spoke with God’s authority.
As the rich man trudges away, disconsolate, Jesus talks some more about these things to his followers. He starts with the rich and wealthy, but expands it out to teach the general principle that holding on to things of this life too tightly can lead to people missing out on life forever.
Running through this teaching is the thread that runs through all Jesus teaching and example about the Christian life. There is a cost, but there is also a promise. Our God is a generous God. God loves to give us good things, and wants us to enjoy the treasures of life for ever, in friendship with God. But, the path to resurrection always goes through the place of the cross.
It is to the glory of God, that the more we empty ourselves, the more God fills us up.
The rich man wanted to inherit eternal life. He recognised that Jesus had the words of eternal life. He had been faithful to God ever since he was young. But, one thing he lacked. There was something in his life that he wanted to hold on to.
A big, transparent box, full of water. Things that tie us down – gold, brick, family, work tools – drop things in it as I talk about them.
Gold is heavy stuff, it sinks. If we hold onto it, we will sink as well. However good we are at swimming. In the end we will sink, unless we let go and trust God to provide for us.
It might not be money, or wealth for us. It might be something else. Something that ties us so closely to the world, that we cannot let go of it. As we don’t let go of it, we sink.
It might be property, a house maybe. A place that we have lived for a while. A place that holds memories and which we don’t want to leave. It might be the area that house is in. The area that we grew up in, where we know others and are known.
It might be family. Maybe it’s elderly relatives who need looking after, or who believe that we owe them. It may be brothers or sisters who have expectations of us. It might be children who we invest our time, energy and resources in.
It might be the fields we work in, or have worked in. The places we know ourselves to be of value because we have done something by the end of the day. The sources of those things that fill our physical needs, and the needs of our families.
As Jesus goes on with this teaching, his followers are getting more and more dismayed. There are almost as troubled as the Rich man had been. “Lord, we’ve already given up a whole load of stuff for you. What else are you asking of us? If this is true, who can be saved?”
As we look at our lives we might think back over things that we have given up to follow Jesus. We might be aware of things that are really precious to us, that we are don’t want to let go of. Is Jesus really asking us, now, to sell all our things and give it all away? What does it mean to be released from family commitments to follow Jesus? What about work? We need to live, we need to work to earn money to eat and to live. But what if our work is getting in the way of our walk with God? What is Jesus asking of us?
These are all hard questions, and not ones that can be answered quickly in a short sermon on a Sunday morning by me. I believe that they are questions that are best answered together, in community and in conversation with each other and with God.
The Rich Man was not invited to follow Jesus on his own. He was asked to join the band of people who travelled with Jesus, who listened to his teaching and chewed it over with him afterwards, who knew what it was like to leave things behind and follow Jesus . People who had experience of walking in this way.
As I come towards the end of what I’m going to say, I have a few questions that I would like to invite us to think about. When I have asked them we will have a few moments of quiet to allow us to reflect on them, and to hear what God is saying to us.
Is there something that Jesus is asking you to let go of? How can we, as a group of fellow followers of Jesus help and support each other as we go through the pain of letting those things go? Will we allow each other close enough to be that support?