Sermon: You Lack One Thing
A reflection on the Gospel of the meeting of Jesus and the rich young man. Mark 10:17 and following.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O God, my maker and redeemer. Amen.
So as Jesus is setting out on a journey on the open road, with his dusty sandals, there was this rich young man, and he had an opportunity to ask Jesus a question. Did you ever wish you could see Jesus face to face and maybe ask Him one question? Just one question, one burning question. Well, the rich young man in today’s story has that opportunity and he had his question all polished and practiced and ready.
So he runs up to Jesus and kneels down and says to Jesus, “Good teacher, What must I do, in order to inherit eternal life?” Or, put another way, maybe the way we might have asked it,
“What do I have to do to go to heaven when I die?”
Jesus at first did not answer the question. Instead he corrects the young man: “Why call me good? Only God is good.” This is another way of Jesus’ saying “who do you say that I am?” And so then the young man addresses him as teacher. But he misses Jesus’ subtle point, as to who he is, for Jesus is the Good Teacher and is to be honored and followed.
Now it’s interesting that the young man asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We are told that he had much property, or to translate it another way, many properties. The word used for property in this passage tended to refer, in Jesus’ day, to what we would call “real estate” today. And the rich kept getting richer, because the poor, when they borrowed from the rich and went into debt and could not pay, would have to sell their land as debt payment.
The rich young man had probably inherited his land, or stood to inherit it when his father died. A firstborn son does nothing to inherit his inheritance, it simply comes to him when his father dies. So he knew that the normal way to receive wealth was to be in the lineage of those who would inherit. So when he asks, “What must I do in order to inherit it?” he may be asking, “How can I get into that family whose inheritance is eternal life?”
And so first Jesus referred the young man to the scriptures. What is written? Keep the commandments and you will live.” And he mentioned some of what we call the Ten Commandments – the ones pertaining to how we treat our neighbors.
But the rich young man is able to simply say, “These I have kept from my youth.” We have no reason to doubt him; his conscience is clear.
And yet he senses there is something more. And he wonders, has he done enough? Has he done enough to merit eternal life? Has he done enough to live forever? Or, is there something more?
What must I do to inherit eternal life? What is the secret? Is it a transaction? – I give you this and you give me what I want? In other words, what is the cost of eternal life?
We think this way when we wonder “how much is enough?” I give such and such a percentage to my church and I give so many volunteer hours a week to this or that ministry and I give my spare change to the malaria campaign but I always wonder, How much is enough?
I have bad news for you. What you have done will never be enough. Nothing we can ever do will be enough to inherit the kingdom of God. But this is also the Good News: because it is received as a gift, by faith through God’s grace.
We are like the rich young man.
And Jesus loves him. Loves him, just as Jesus loves each and every one of us. Loves him because Jesus knows what is in the hearts of people and because he has this longing that had driven him to Jesus to ask his one burning question.
And so Jesus makes an invitation to him – an invitation to join the family, to enter the kingdom of God then and there. Eternal life, abundant life, full life, beginning right then and there.
Now, we know that we are like the rich young man. He was among the wealthiest people in his society. And we are among the wealthiest people on the planet.
Think of it. If you have citizenship in a country that does not have war within its borders, if you have enough food to eat three healthy meals every day, if you know where you can sleep warm and dry tonight, if you have clean water that runs hot and cold into your house at the touch of a faucet, if you have enough money to care for all of your needs and some of what you want in addition, if you have more than two or three changes of clothes, if you have access to medicine when you need it, if you have a car or access to a car, then you are among the most wealthy people on the planet. But most of us have to admit that in addition to this wealth I have just mentioned, we are able to travel, take vacations, and in addition, like the rich young man in the story, we have many possessions.
And most of us have tried to follow the 10 Commandments since we were very small. We may not have kept them perfectly. But we have tried.
So we are like the rich young man, and Jesus loved him. Just as Jesus loves us. And Jesus says to us as he says to him, come, follow me. Follow me and enter God’s kingdom right here and now.
How that looks will be different for each of us. For instance, Jesus ate with another rich man, Zaccheus, but he did not ask him to sell everything. When Zaccheus repented, he gave a third of his fortune to the poor, and Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house.” So this passage does not require each of us to sell our homes and give away all we have saved and throw ourselves onto the welfare system! But it does require us to listen to what God is asking each of us to do, and the bottom line is :
God’s kingdom is the place where all divisions based on wealth and status break down and we are all children together with Jesus as our brother and teacher and Savior. God’s kingdom is a place where we love our neighbors as ourselves. God’s kingdom is the place where wealth is given to some, as an opportunity for them to give it way out of love for God and neighbor.
Be my disciple, Jesus was saying. Leave your lesser attachments, leave behind what holds you back, and come, follow Me.
Jesus loved the rich young man and said to him, “You lack one thing….come, follow Me. And enter now into the kingdom of God. Because the kingdom is where Jesus is. Jesus was inviting the rich young man to experience now the kind of life that is everlasting. To live now in the way that leads to a life that has no end. To live now in a life of abundance which is only found when we approach God with empty hands.
“You lack one thing.” We tend to think we lack many things. And we spend our lives going after these things that we lack, and this becomes a trap for us.
But Jesus said to the rich man, as He says to us, “You lack one thing.” In order to really to respond to this longing in your heart – a longing God has put there, that can be filled only by following Jesus – Jesus was saying to the man, “I am inviting you to be one of my disciples. So go, sell all your property and give it all to the poor, so that you will have treasure in heaven, and then come, follow me. And in following Me you will find the one thing you lack.”
And the man was shocked. He was shocked, as he stood there looking at Jesus and his disciples in their well-worn, dusty sandals. And as he turned and walked away and he was sad, because he owned many properties, and great was the measure of the things that he owned….or, rather, great was the measure of the things that had power over him, so much power that they could keep him from the personal invitation of Jesus.
How hard it is for those of us who are wealthy to enter into the kingdom of God. It is as hard as if a camel tried to go through the eye of a needle. In other words, it is impossible for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God. Nothing we can do can make that possible. Only God can do that, by God’s grace, by opening our eyes to our neighbors who are in need and by opening our hearts to love people more than property. Then we will enter into the life of the kingdom of God, where wealth is put in our hands in trust, as stewards, so that we may open our hands in trust and distribute it to those who need it.
God’s kingdom is not just in heaven after we die. It is now, and we have the opportunity the rich man had, to reorder our priorities. We have the opportunity every day to hear the Word of God and not walk away saddened. God grant us the wisdom to know that Jesus is in fact The Good Teacher, and therefore to hear Him when He says to us, “you lack one thing,” And God give us the freedom to choose the one thing that matters, even if it means leaving something behind, every day to be Jesus’ disciple by sharing what we do not need for the sake of the love of Jesus, proclaiming the good news that following Jesus is the one thing we need, and daring to experience the freedom of following Jesus in the Way that leads to life.