In yesterday’s post, I argued that Mark 10:17-31 is not about stewardship in the contemporary, “keep the institutional church functioning,” sort of way. Instead, I suspect that the encounter between Jesus and the rich young man is enlightened by the Old Testament Track 2 lesson from the prophet Amos as it is a story about healing and the forgiveness of sins.
Amos’ prophetic ministry took place during a relatively calm period in the life of Israel and Judah. For many years, two good kings reigned and there was very little threat from the powerful empires of Egypt and Assyria that surrounded them. As is often the case, an extended time of peace brought with it a time of great prosperity… for a few… built on the backs of many others. The sin which Amos decries is not richness, per se, but the lack of concern for the poor that often comes with it.
Which brings us to the rich young man’s encounter with Jesus. Mark tells us that he approaches Jesus and kneels before him. David Lose, in his 2012 commentary for WorkingPreacher.org, notes that everyone who kneels before Jesus in Mark’s gospel has come in search of healing. It would make sense that this man’s motivation is similar. He comes to Jesus already following the Way of the Torah. He’s kept the commandments since his youth, and yet he still feels like something is missing. There is a sin, a sickness, deep within him that he knows needs to be healed, and so he asks Jesus for forgiveness and healing.
Jesus sees that the man is possessed by wealth. He is in need of the same sort of admonition that Amos gave the ruling class of Israel – to remember to care for and show hospitality to the poor. Before doing anything, however, Jesus loves him. The man is already saved by grace through faith, even though, in the end, he will walk away disappointed because his faith wasn’t strong enough to trust God’s abundant provision.
This is a story about money: a story about how money tends to isolate those who have from those who have not. The call to sell all he has and give it to the poor is a call to renewed relationship, or as the Book of Common Prayer calls is, the restoration of unity with God and each other. It is a story about healing, about Jesus’ desire to set us free from those things that possess us: wealth, pride, envy, anxiety, victimhood, etc. Over and over again, Jesus tells those he has healed 1) “your sins have been forgiven” and 2) “your faith has made you well.” For each of us, part 1 is always true, but it takes part 2 to find abundant life. Which makes this ultimately a story about discipleship, about how Jesus calls us to give up everything that keeps us from trusting him fully. The young man exemplifies many of us who, though we know we are deeply loved, have a hard time following Jesus because it means we’ll have to give up that one thing that we hold most dear. It’d be easier to shove a camel through the eye of a needle than to give these things up on our own, but thankfully, God loves us even in our sinfulness, and loves us enough not to leave us there.