Text: Mark 10:17-22
Our text today is the Gospel lesson from Mark 10, where a rich man asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus' reply surprises us. We would expect him to say, “Trust in me as your Savior. I will soon be going to the cross to pay for your sins, and three days later rise to life again.” Instead, he says, “Keep the commandments.” But Jesus only says this to make the man recognize that his wealth and possessions were keeping him from having eternal life.
You might be saying to yourself right now, “Well, that's not a problem for me. I'm not a rich man.” But you and I are more like that rich man than you might think. Our wealth and possessions, however great or small they are, often get in the way of our relationship with God. Our offerings are meager. Our minds are preoccupied with taking care of our things or getting more things. Our possessions have such a hold on us...and we have such a hold on them...that we have a hard time putting Christ first in our life. We have a hard time when it comes to being faithful stewards of the earthly treasures that God has given us.
Our possessions have a hold on us
The rich man in the text may very well have been a pretty good guy. He was probably an upstanding citizen. He went about his life not bothering anyone. Everyday on his way to the office, he kissed his wife and kids goodbye at the door. He honored his father and mother even in their old age by listening to their advice and taking care of their needs. He was a good and honest businessman, never stealing or defrauding anyone. He really thought that he had kept the commandments as Jesus had told him. And most of us probably consider ourselves good people, too. We are “churchgoing folk,” after all.
But before Jesus answers the man's question about how to inherit eternal life, Jesus asks him a question. The man had called him, “Good teacher.” Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Now, we know that Jesus is God, so he is truly THE Good Teacher...capital G, capital T. But the rich man in our text didn't know that Jesus was God. So Jesus says in effect, “Hey, as far as you're concerned, I'm just a man. So why are you calling me 'good.' No one is good except God alone.” Jesus seems to be setting the man up so that he would look at himself and recognize that he is not good. He is a sinner in need of a Savior. Jesus could have quoted Psalm 14, like St. Paul did in Romans 3. It says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God...no one does good, not even one.”
However, the rich man doesn't recognize his problem. He says, “Teacher, all these commandments I have kept from my youth.” But notice what commandments Jesus mentions. He quotes from the Second Table of the Law...those commandments that have to do with our relationship with our neighbor. Jesus seems to purposely leave out the First Table of the Law, the first three commandments...those that deal with our relationship to God. This was where the man's problem really lay. Although outwardly he was a good person, he really had another god, and that god was his possessions, his wealth, his material goods.
The question was “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus' answer: “Keep the commandments.” We all know this is impossible, because you and I know that we have a sinful nature that cannot keep God's commandments. But for the sake of argument, let's say that the man really had kept the commandments as he thought. Jesus points out to the man that unless he releases his grasp of his possessions...unless he gets out from under the hold that they have on him...unless he gets rid of his false god...then he cannot inherit eternal life. “You lack one thing,” Jesus told him. “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
You and I have varying degrees of wealth. Some of us live paycheck to paycheck. Some of us rely on a meager pension and Social Security checks. Some of us live quite comfortably in large, nicely decorated homes. Some of us have nice homes and nice cars, but we are in debt up to our eyeballs. But whatever our financial status is, we are all like the rich man in our text. Our possessions are our gods. And the litmus test for this is found in our reaction to Jesus' words. How do you feel when Jesus says directly to you, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven”? Can you do it? Are you yourself willing to get rid of everything that you have, give it to those who have less than you, and live out on the street in order to inherit eternal life? I'm afraid not. Our possessions have a hold on us that we cannot break.
Jesus has taken hold of us
But the Son of God “sold” all he had when he left his high position in heaven and became a man in order to die for the sins of the world. And now, he gives life and salvation to us poor sinners so that we would have treasure in heaven. He has taken hold of you in the waters of Holy Baptism. You belong to him. You are marked with his name.
You see, the man in today's text was asking the wrong question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is a foolish question, because you can't inherit eternal life. After all, what is an inheritance? Is it something you earn? Do you have to do something in order to get your inheritance? No, it's something you get because of whose you are...who you belong to...who you are related to...it's a gift. And usually, before you get your inheritance, someone has to die first. And that's exactly what the Son of God did for you. He died bearing our sins in his body on the cross, Through Christ's death, we are redeemed from the sinful grasp that our possessions have over us and the hold that we have on them. We are brought back into the family of the Father in the waters of Baptism. And now we have an inheritance in heaven that can never spoil or fade. 1 Peter 1:3-5 says that our God and Father “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
And through God's power working in Word and Sacrament, we can release our grasp on our wealth and possessions and see them rightly as gifts God has given us to use in the service of our neighbor. We don't have to sell them and live on the street. We get to be stewards of what God has given us, while all the while looking forward to our inheritance in heaven. All that we have is only borrowed for a time. Our first fruits we give to God before we do anything else...giving a portion of our earnings off the top as an act of worship and trust. And then we take the rest and prayerfully use it in love for those who need our care and concern.
In closing, I'd like to point out one small part of this account that might get overlooked. It's my favorite part. It's where Jesus looked at the man and loved him. He didn't look at him with disdain or contempt. He didn't look at him and say, “You silly little man, thinking you can somehow keep the commandments. I can't stand people like you.” There was none of that. Even in the face of the man's sinful response and the fact that he walked away disheartened and sorrowful, Jesus looked at him with love.
That's how Jesus looks at you. With love. He knows what things are lacking in our lives...he sees the way you and I have fallen short of the glory of God...yet his heart still goes out to us. He looks at you and he loves you. Having heard God's Word today, don't walk away like the man in our text, disheartened and sorrowful. Come to Jesus in repentant trust, and follow him. He is our “priceless treasure” now...he will be our treasure in heaven. And with that treasure, and with his eye of love upon us, we can look at others with the love and compassion of Jesus and share our earthly treasures with them...while pointing them to the true treasure of Jesus.
Hence, all earthly treasure! Jesus is my pleasure, Jesus is my choice.
Hence, all empty glory! Naught to me thy story Told with tempting voice.
Pain or loss, Or shame or cross, Shall not from my Savior move me
Since he deigns to love me. (LSB 743)