Saturday, October 3, 2015

To fear, love, and trust God above all things

The story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-31, the gospel text appointed for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, is paired with verses from Amos 5, which also reprove those of means.  For many of us who will preach these texts, and many others who will hear them, we long for a loophole - some way to convince ourselves that our wealth and our possessions are not a problem in our relationship with God.  Martin Luther would remind us of the meaning of the First Commandment:  We are to fear, love and trust God above all things.  How do we do in that regard?

(The questions below get at some of the concerns for Law/Gospel preachers.  For a detailed guide to Law/Gospel preaching, check out my book available from Amazon).

1.  How does the Word function in the text?   This is a rare text in that here we have Jesus, the Word, functioning in all three ways that the Word can function - a word of Law (You need Jesus!), a word of Gospel (Here is Jesus!), a call to obedience (Follow Jesus!).  The word of the Law comes most clearly when Jesus is speaking to the disciples, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!" The word of the Gospel comes in this conversation as well: "For mortals it is impossible [to be saved], but not for God; for God all things are possible."  The call to obedience actually comes right at the beginning as Jesus addresses the young man:  "Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me."

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is very important to identify with all who struggle with Jesus' words here.  If there was ever an opportunity for a preacher to come clean with his or her own struggles regarding money this is it.  We are all astounded by Jesus' words, just as the disciples were.

3.  What, if any call to obedience is there in the text?  As I said earlier the call to follow Jesus is explicit in Jesus' words to the rich, young man.  Because the young man asks a question regarding inheriting eternal life we might be tempted to think that Jesus' reply to him is the call to faith, not the call to obedience.  I think not.  For one thing his question is one about worthiness to be an heir.  He knows that eternal life is inherited, not earned, so he wants to make sure he's worthy of the inheritance.  Mark's comment, that "Jesus, looking at him, loved him," lets us know that this man is already beloved in God's eyes.  Jesus' command to him is the one that comes to us all in the wake of God's love.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Several occur to me:  sorrowful/joyful, possessed by possessions/possessed by Christ, lost/saved, bound/free.

5.  Exegetical work?  M. Eugene Boring in his excellent commentary on the Gospel of Mark (The New Testament Library) notes how much evidence there is that readers have tried to water down Jesus' words in this text.  Note Boring's list:  1)  Scribal efforts to change the word 'camel' to 'rope', and other changes; 2) 'Needle's eye' refers to a Jerusalem gate (there is no such gate); 3) Restricting this text to a particular historical situation where a few people were called to this; 4) Restricting this text to certain individuals, not a general requirement; 5) This text was not meant literally - "the problem is not money, but the love of it"; 6) This is a second use of the law, i.e. Jesus intensified the demand here to bring the man awareness of his impotence for salvation; 7)  There are two levels of discipleship - the ordinary and the perfect, i.e. monastic. (pp. 292-293)   All of these attempts to water down Jesus' words to the rich, young man make it abundantly clear how much we resist Jesus' claim on us.

6  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Steven Albertin, under the 19th Sunday after Pentecost for 2009 Year B Gospel gives us an excellent model for looking at this text.  He begins with the exposure of our desire to always have more stuff, and ends with the announcement of God's abundance.  Nice.  I would recommend the website, study for a look at how this model works.

Blessings on your proclamation!


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