Sermon for 14th October

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

What a question! The rich man in our reading today was so desperate to know the answer that he knelt in front of Jesus to ask him. He evidently knew about Jesus but seems not to have been one of the followers, perhaps he had heard about Jesus’ reputation; in any case he was prepared to humble himself before this traveling teacher. To put this in any kind of modern context it would be like Richard Branson kneeling in the dirt in front of a street preacher and asking the same question. –  Unlikely perhaps, but possible if he had nowhere else to go to ask the question.

We know from the versions of this story in Matthew and Luke that the rich man was young and that he was extremely wealthy; he had everything that he needed and wanted for nothing in a material sense. Yet he wanted something else, something that, even with all his wealth, he could not buy.

Do you remember what Steve Redgrave said when he won his fourth Olympic Gold Medal at Atlanta in 1996, he said “If anyone sees me anywhere near a boat again, they have my permission to shoot me.” Yet he eventually decided to compete again in 2000. This was a man who suffered from Colitis and Diabetes, who had won gold medals in many events as well as in the Olympics, he had nothing to prove, his reputation was secure; and he had everything to lose.

He knew better than anybody how hard it would be training every day, he knew his age was against him, he knew the risk of putting everything on the line. The price of making his decision was high, higher than almost anybody can imagine, but it was a price he was prepared to pay. It was just as well that nobody took him up on what he had said in 1996 because he did race again in 2000 and he did win. That prize could not be bought by possessions, Redgrave paid the price in the currency of determination, physical and mental commitment and unbreakable will.

Jesus challenged the rich man by reminding him of the commandments, not to commit murder or adultery; not to steal, bear false witness or defraud; and to honour your father and mother.

The man’s apparently honest response was that he had obeyed all these laws. Then Jesus did something that I believe is easy to overlook in this story. He looked at the man,………. that doesn’t sound significant does it, ………..but I don’t think that this simply means that he looked towards him before he spoke. It seems to me that he was ‘LOOKING WITH INTENT’, weighing up what the rich man had claimed, getting the measure of him.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a look that seems to penetrate your very being, goes to the heart of your soul; a look indeed that implies that the person looking at you knows everything about you? That look is greater than mere perception. I have only experienced such a look once or twice, but it is memorable when it happens.

Jesus did not question the man about the laws, he did not sent him away with a rebuke; instead the bible says that he loved him. He simply told him to go and sell all that he had and give the money to the poor; he would then have treasure in heaven and could then come and follow Jesus.

GO SELL GIVE

COME FOLLOW

The rich man who wanted for nothing was shocked, astonished and appalled; Jesus had put before the man a hurdle that he could not countenance. His many possessions meant too much to him and without protesting he went away in grief.

Following his discussion with the rich man, Jesus turned to his disciples and taught them about entering the kingdom of god in a wider sense. They would already have been surprised at his treatment of the rich man because, in his actions, Jesus was challenging the tradition and culture of an entire society. Riches and possessions meant power, and power meant influence, and influence meant that you got what you wanted.

Interesting isn’t it, some things don’t change much, even over a span of 2000 years! The mentality that money is the key to everything remains all too common today.

It is easy to think about the Russian oil oligarchs who can buy football clubs because they are fans, or the regimes in Africa that funnel foreign aid into their own pockets at the cost of the existence of their populations. Look closer to home though, over the last few years we have had the ‘cash for questions’ and ‘cash for honours’ scandals. It remains a sad reflection on society that if you have money, you have a tool that can be abused. I repeat …….can be abused…….. because it is not necessarily so. Many people do use their riches to help others but some do not.

When Jesus said to the disciples how hard it would be for wealthy people to enter the kingdom of heaven, and then repeated himself for emphasis, they went from being surprised, to perplexed and then to downright astonishment. Jesus suggested that a camel was more likely to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom. Essentially he said that it was not possible.

Not surprisingly, the astounded disciples started asking each other how anyone could be saved. At this point Jesus fixed them with another ‘LOOK WITH INTENT’.

It seems to me that this look would have felt something like “Be quiet and listen, you really do not get it do you?” Jesus tried to make things clearer for them, telling them that God can do things that for humans are not possible; God can do all things.

Jesus had talked with the rich man and the disciples; then Peter, on behalf of the disciples, pitched in. He started to justify the disciples by reminding Jesus that they had left everything behind them to follow him.

Jesus interrupted Peter, but not with a rebuke this time; he told him using the solemn and powerful words ‘Truly I tell you”, that all those who gave up their families and possessions for his sake would benefit greatly in this world, and more importantly, in the next. They had already:-

GONE SOLD GIVEN

COME FOLLOWED

Jesus had not condemned the rich man, he had not denounced him for his wealth or possessions; instead he had loved him. The man had turned away by himself because he could not let go. Jesus does not want us to literally dispose of every material thing in our lives; houses, computers, cars, boats, savings!

He does want us to make him our priority, to use what we have to help those who have nothing; to use our skills and gifts to benefit others. We must not be distracted by the love of possessions; Jesus loved the rich man and he loves us so how great should our love of God be. It sounds so easy but it asks much of us.

Steve Redgrave’s prize for his determination and dedication was a gold medal. How much greater a prize awaits us for our faith and belief; ………..eternal life in the kingdom of God.

Let us make the hard decisions and walk the extra mile to build on our faith.

Jesus knows each one of us.

If we can stand strong before the LOOK of Jesus, then God will grant the prize.

Let us make that our goal.

AMEN.

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