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God Who Gave Everything

Mark 10:17-31
Jim Chipps in VA

“And as he was setting out on a journey a man ran up and knelt before him.....” There’s an intensity about this man---the word isn’t simply ran, it’s “raced up to him.” A man driven by an urgent need. Who is he? The early church gave this story the title “the rich young ruler,” but nothing in the story suggests he was a ruler.

We are given no name. Perhaps that’s Mark’s way of inviting us all of us to identify with him. We learn from the conversation that he is a successful person. He’s a decent fellow who has sought to obey all the “oughts”. He is an achiever and an accumulator. Perhaps today we would see him in the fit Reebok or Nike shod jogger.

Suddenly we realize that though separated by 2000 years, we have much in common with him. We can identify outwardly with his striving to be a success, as the world calls success. We can identify with him inwardly, too. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s a heavy question. A value-loaded question.

Questions of meaning and value are beginning to surface in his life--the road he’s racing on is beginning to look like I-66 and there’s no exit anywhere near. The young man is caught in a crisis of meaning, no longer sure of the race. It happens to most of us, usually somewhere between 35 and 65. A nationally famous sportscaster once said, “I’m near the top of the mountain I saw before me as a young man. It’s mostly salt.”

Perhaps you’ve reached a plateau--some advancements you thought you’d have, have passed you by. Your children are no longer dependent on you. You’ve lost one or both your parents. The thought of death, or long illness, and getting old and unable to do what you want with your retirement years---these kinds of thoughts face you in the middle of the night when you have to get up and pee one more time.

“Is this all there is?” Where is the promised quality in my life. I’ve played by the rules. “You know the commandments,” says Jesus, and lists them. “I’ve kept these since my youth” replies the man. And so have we, most of them, most of the time. We’ve been running all our lives by all the admonitions of home, family, church and culture: brush your teeth and don’t forget to floss, way your prayers, work hard, obey the law, get ahead. The young man--and we--had lived by all the imperatives imposed upon him from the outside. That’s the way we all grow---our parents command, our teachers teach, our church preaches, society imposes its models and definitions on us.

But sooner or later we get to the point where we have to do the deciding and choosing on our own. The running man had reached that point. Mark tells us that Jesus looked at him and loved him. The Lord understood. “You lack one thing: go, sell what you own, give the money away, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me.” St. Francis took these words literally, and the world was made brighter by his decision. Whether we take them literally or not, Jesus is asking us to cut out our dependency on anything but him. So often our possessions represent our dependencies.

Story about Amish farmer who was watching his new neighbor move in. Off the moving van came refrigerators, freezers, stereos, record collections, computers, VCR’s, exercise equipment, golf clubs. The next day the farmer and his wife went to introduce themselves and delivered some fresh baked muffins and homemade jam. After the usual cordial conversation, the farmer concluded the visit by saying, “now, if anything should go wrong with your appliances and equipment, don’t hesitate to call me.” “That’s very generous of you,” the newcomer interrupted. “No problem,” said the farmer, “I’ll just tell you how to live without them.”

Jesus was asking the rich young man--and us--to die to attachments that can provide only a temporary meaning in life. Possessions are one of those attachments, but there are others. Roberta Flack sings a song with an intriguing title, Let Pharaoh Go. We usually think of pharaoh as the one who can make the decision to keep us or free us. But so often the reverse is true. We do not want to let go of the things that hold us.--after all, the things of this world give us a certain identity and assurance.

The theme of renunciation emerges in this encounter. Renunciation is a form of dying. Most people think of death and resurrection as experiences at the end of life, not as possibilities in the midst of life. It faces us daily. Christians have to die to many things during a lifetime if we are to experience any new possibility. Sometimes the pharaoh in our lives is the role we play. Take, for example role of parent. The satisfactions of being a parent are many. But we’ve all heard of the empty nest syndrome--the feeling of emptiness when children are gone on their own and now there is a crisis of identity. Or sometimes it’s the opposite effect--particularly I think among some mothers--they cling to their role until death, continually trying to steer or manipulate their child’s (usually daughter’s) life, never letting them grow up.

Sometimes retirement from job or profession brings on a crisis. A friend once made a comment about a man who seemed very unhappy and usually depressed: “His problem was he retired from the Army as a 2-star general, and no one gives a damn anymore.”

Daring to risk to die to old dependencies is what resurrection faith is all about. It’s hard to do. When the rich young man heard what Jesus was asking him to do with his possessions, “he was shocked and went away grieving, because he had many possessions.” Really, though, his possessions had him. And yet he was so close to his quest for meaning. He just didn’t pay attention to what he heard. When he said to Jesus, “Good Teacher,” he didn’t hear what Jesus said back: “Why do you call me good, no one is good but God.” Jesus was telegraphing something---God from God, light from light, true God from true God, was right there in front of him, and he didn’t recognize that in Jesus he would find his meaning in life.

Second, he didn’t really hear what he said in his own question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life.” You don’t do anything to get an inheritance except wait for someone to die---Jesus’ death, which he knew was coming, was the ticket to resurrection life, and it would come to the young man as gift. Jesus looked at him and loved him. Just as he looks at us and loves us. But rather than pulling up a chair and resting in that love, finding new meaning for life in that love, he walked away. Don’t you walk away.

In a few minutes you and I are coming to a eucharistic feast where God takes some possessions---bread and wine, time and talent and treasure and lives we have offered, transforms them, and gives them back to us as something new and different--redeemed to become instruments of God’s power and presence in this time and place. And he gives us his own self.

The God who gave everything gives everything still.