Watching for the Morning of October 11, 2015
The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 23 / Lectionary 28
The Pharisees’ question to Jesus about divorce turned into an invitation by him to live the kingdom. Now a rich man comes asking how to enter the kingdom, but he turns away, unable to live the life Jesus is bringing.
We know this story as the story of the rich, young ruler, but Mark doesn’t tell us that he is any of these, until it comes out at the end that the man cannot give up his wealth. Every adjective we add to describe this person who comes to Jesus seeking the kingdom of God, every detail with which he is embellished, pushes him further and further into a comfortable distance from ourselves. Bit by bit we define him as someone specific rather than an everyman. He becomes someone else, not me.
But he is me – me with different issues, maybe, but me. What is Jesus asking of us? What is he promising? What do I have to walk away from in order to walk into the realm of the Spirit? My wealth? My anger? My bitterness? My sorrow?
The subject under discussion here is wealth – but much more than wealth. Even as last week’s conversation was about much more than divorce. We are still on the journey towards Jerusalem. Jesus is still headed to the cross and resurrection. He is still talking about what it means to take up the cross, what it means to be citizens of the dawning reign of light and life, what it means to show allegiance to Jesus and Jesus only.
The prophet Amos tills the soil for the seeds Jesus is sowing. He cries out against the economic injustice of his day, the loss of compassion, the abuse of the poor, and declares the coming catastrophe when Assyria will come trample those who trampled the poor:
“You have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.”
The psalmist calls us to be wise, to recognize that
“The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.”
Pain and struggle and mortality are the heritage of a world turned away from God – but the poet prays for God to soften the burden of life’s sorrows.
What is unspoken in the psalm – but present nonetheless – is the recognition that our brief and fragile life should be spent in “fear” of the eternal God (respect and honor of God’s ways).
As he warns us to show trust and allegiance to God, the author of Hebrews states boldly that the Word of God will reveal the heart of each of us. But he also declares that in Christ we may “approach the throne of grace with boldness.”
In this mix of warning and promise, judgment and grace, there is an abiding promise that God’s reign is dawning. It requires our full allegiance, but it abounds with riches – just not the ones taken from our neighbors.
The Prayer for October 11, 2015
In your kingdom, O God, all find shelter and all are fed.
May your Spirit reign among us
that, abiding in your goodness,
we may live with joyful and generous hearts;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Texts for October 11, 2015
First Reading: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
“Because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them.” – In the 8th century BCE, during the reign of Jereboam II, the northern kingdom of Israel grew rich but failed to live God’s justice and mercy. As Assyria rises to power, the prophet Amos cries out against the nation’s failure, warning them of the coming catastrophe, and urging them to turn and live.
Psalmody: Psalm 90 (appointed 90:12-17)
“Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” – The poet meditates on the brevity and sorrows of human life, rooted as they are in humanity’s sinfulness. The poet bids God grant them a proper humility, but also asks God to have mercy and deal with us according to his faithfulness and love.
Second Reading: Hebrews 4:12-16
“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” – God knows and will reveal the heart, but the author also declares that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” and urges his hearers to “approach the throne of grace with boldness.”
Gospel: Mark 10:17-31
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – A man comes up to Jesus asking how he can inherit the kingdom of God (be among those to enjoy the age to come when God rules over all). But when Jesus summons him to sell his possessions, give to the poor and come, follow Jesus, he turns away. And Jesus comments on how difficult it is for the wealthy to start living the kingdom. Fortunately, “for God all things are possible.”
Photo: By Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil (Contando Dinheiro) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons