Reading Mk 10.17-31
Preacher Canon Robert Titley
Baptism of Guy Stanford Tuck,Florence Grondona and Alexander Lindsay
If you are poor, you know it, because life is a constant juggling act, putting off what you badly need, to pay for what you urgently need, making a little go a long way. But if you’re not poor, you may find it hard to say if you’re actually quite – wealthy. Wealth is like dandruff – it’s much easier to spot other people’s.
No, I’m not rich (you may say). I get by, I’ve got enough, but not really rich, no, I wouldn’t say that. Look at them: they’re rich. Look at all those holidays they go on. Money to burn.
This morning’s reading suggests that it is important for you and me to get an accurate sense of our riches or our poverty, because it is a matter of life and death.
A man meets Jesus. He’s very polite. He calls him ‘Good teacher’, and probably expects a compliment in return – their society places great emphasis upon courtesy – something like, ‘You do me honour, sir; may God honour you with great wealth.’ Instead Jesus snaps at him, ‘Good? Why call me good?’ As far as he’s concerned, this conversation is going to be more real than polite. So (in words unforgettably revived at the Olympic closing ceremony by the Spice Girls) what does this man really, really want?
Apparently he wants eternal life: life is good for him at the moment, and he wants that good life to be something secure and permanent. He knows his commandments, God’s ten signposts to living well, and he can tick them all; but Jesus tests him on the second commandment, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. Jesus, says the writer, looks at him, loves him, and says,
One more thing: sell up, give the money away to your poor neighbours (trust me, it’ll be a good investment); and follow me.
At that, he takes himself away, heavy-hearted, because he has a lot to lose. Jesus loves him with a tough love that exposes the truth: this man is more in love with his wealth than with anything else. How hard it is, Jesus tells his disciples, for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle.
And now, something to gladden the heart. Alexander, Florence and Guy come to be baptised today, a wonderful moment in which we show how much God loves them: water, the stuff we need to live, will be poured over them as a sign that God longs to shower upon them everything that will help them live, and live well. At such a moment you have high hopes, you dream a little. As a parent, godparent, as a relative or friend, or another happy witness to this moment, what hopes do you have for these young lives? Your answers will reflect what matters most to you: it would be odd to want things for them that you don’t value for yourself. So Jesus says, ‘OK, moment of truth: what are your dreams for Alexander, Florence and Guy – and for yourselves – when it comes to wealth?’
In the story, the man’s problem is that his money stops him getting what he says he really wants. So, ask yourself: What do I really want for them? and for myself? Do I want to enter this place of wonders that Jesus calls the kingdom of God? Do I want God to be so close, so present, that I begin to see the world as God sees it? If I really don’t, best be truthful about that. But if I’m just not sure I want that, do I want to want it? And if I do, how does the money I have, the stuff I have, fit in? How much does it help, and how much does it get in the way? Money can buy freedom, but does my money make me feel free? I could spend it on this, I could invest it like that… does it oppress me with the choices it opens up for me, the demands it places on me, and the fear it kindles of getting it wrong? Am I possessed by my possessions? And can I hear the voice of Jesus saying this morning, ‘Let me set you free from this’?
Jesus’ point about giving to the poor is that entering the Kingdom of God is not just about liberation for the individual soul. See the world as God sees it, and you see how unjust it is. You see how God loves each child with the same love as that poured out on these three children this morning, including the hundred-odd children around the world who have died, as a result of extreme poverty, since this sermon began. Loving God cannot be separated from loving your neighbour as you love yourself. It makes you and me ask the question –
for whom is my money good news?
Mark’s gospel is one of four portraits of Jesus in the Bible, and Mark’s Jesus often serves up tough stuff to chew on, like today. Measure yourself against the demands Jesus seems to set, and you will find that you fall short. And yet you say, ‘I’m not a bad person,’ so you ask, along with the disciples, ‘then who can be saved?’ Jesus’ reply? In human terms, no-one. But being saved, being whole people, living life in a way that isn’t bound by this world, these are not things that human beings can achieve. They come from God. And (Jesus adds) for God all things are possible.
The hundred-odd children See ‘Click’, the Make Poverty History campaign on child poverty: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCejNNipg9o