Preachers have only now begun to recuperate after yesterday’s triennial tap-dance around the divorce text when a young rich man comes running up to Jesus, falls at his feet, and cries out, “Good teacher.” Good teacher? Did he not hear what went down earlier in Mark 10? Good teacher? Is he not aware of what Jesus is about to do to him and to preachers for the next several thousand years? Good teacher?
After a quick rebuke from Jesus, the rich man, seemingly no longer on the ground in front of Jesus, puffs up his chest, removes the good from his title and goes to to proudly claim that he has kept all of the commandments since his youth. Good God man!?! Who in their right mind would make such a claim? And yet, he does. He boldly suggests that he has been able to keep all 10 of the Big-uns for as long as he’s been in control of his actions. Good for him.
Jesus, no longer the good teacher, but now the teacher that the rich man needed, tells him that even in his faithfulness to the law, he is lacking something. It seems it is that pesky first commandment. You know, the one about having no other gods but God. It seems the rich man has hoarded his wealth. His possessions are his idol – his riches, his god – and so, if he is truly committed to living faithfully in the Kingdom of God, he must give it all up, give all his money to the poor, and follow Jesus. In the words of old Hank Williams, Jr.
It is easy, and quite tempting on the heels of last week’s text, to make this not-so-good teaching from Jesus exclusive to the rich man. It’s be easier to say, “Jesus wanted him to sell everything, but Jesus didn’t understand late-stage capitalism, and you’re good.” But, well, that’s probably not all true. It would be difficult, and maybe a little tempting in a world built on scarcity, to say, “Yep, Jesus meant this for everyone. To follow Jesus, you’ll have to sell it all, give it to the church (because the church is surely poor).” But, that’s probably not all true either.
What the teacher, who we know to be good, seems to be saying to the rich man and to us, is that we do all kinds of bending over backwards to make sure God isn’t the God of everything in our lives. We like to make it look like we’ve got this faith thing together, like we trust in Jesus, and like we are living in the Kingdom of God, but the hard reality is that all of us struggle to keep from making something else the god of our lives. It might not be money for you. It might be power, drugs, success, soccer practice, feelings, politics, or your resume. There might be any number of things that are clamoring for you to hold on tight, lest God might come into your life and change your priorities. What Jesus is inviting that rich man to experience is truth faith, letting go of everything he thought he could control, and trust fully in God.
That’s a teaching that might be hard, but it really is good.