This is a copy of a talk I gave at Saint Mary’s in Billericay High Street at midweek Communion on Wednesday 8 September 2021. The Bible Reading was Mark 10:17-31.
One of my favourite stage shows in recent times is Hamilton. Has anyone seen the video of the stage production or the show in the West End? It’s based on Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States after the War of Independence. It’s a quite a remarkable production. I wrote a blog about it last year and just last week, Paula, Annabel and I went to see it at the Palace Theatre after several cancellations because if COVID. Hamilton was responsible for setting up the banking system in the states in the late 1700’s, which still lasts to this day. His picture is on the 10-dollar bill. He was also a signatory to the Declaration of Independence which states:
‘… human beings are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, including, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’.
It’s an interesting statement, isn’t it? Is this the kind of outlook that Christian’s should live by? Is the pursuit of our own happiness the ultimate and only goal? In this passage, we can see where our priorities lie, and we’ll look at this under three headings: What must I do? Where must I be? How can this be?
What Must I Do? Vs 17-21
Wherever Jesus went he caused a stir. When it was the Pharisees and Scribes, they got angry at being accused of hypocrisy. When it was the ordinary people, they went to hear him in droves.
Vs17-21: As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
You can imagine the situation here, a young man comes along and falls at his feet, and he asks the $64,000 dollar question: What must I do to inherit eternal life. It might not be the first question people ask, but it is surely one that we all recognise within ourselves. They are known as the first order questions of life: Is there a God? What is the meaning of life? What happens when I die? There has to be more to life that what is on offer.
I went on retreat to Abbey House in Glastonbury a few years ago. Glastonbury is known as a place of Christian pilgrimage (legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea passed through and planted the famous Glastonbury Thorn).
Glastonbury is famous for hosting the largest music festival in Europe. It’s quite an inconspicuous place until you walk down the High Street and then you see a whole array of weird New Age shops: Crystals, Gurus, Occult … some of it was quite scary – even at 2.00 pm in the afternoon. It attracts a strange group of people who, like this young man, are looking for answers but who find themselves looking in the wrong places. Which is why the Alpha Course starting at Emmanuel on 26 September is such a great starting point for Christians and non-Christians alike.
But this young man knew what he wanted. He wanted eternal life. He had the good job, or at least he was rich enough not to have to worry about a job. Deep down, however, he knew that something was missing. Then along comes a young Rabbi who seems to have all the answers. People speak wonderfully of him. He heals people and tells people all they have ever done. This man will tell me what I need to hear. This man will tell me how I can be satisfied. This man knows who I am and what I need to do to be whole.
He even shows great respect to Jesus. He calls him “Good teacher”. And so, the question is asked, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ Jesus tells the man to obey the law – the great revelation of God’s character. Do this and you will live. If you have been perfect, then eternal life is yours.
And the young man, without a hint of irony, states that he has obeyed the law from his youth. He is a religious young man. He was a regular at the temple. He’s probably there for the 8.30 and 10.30 services and never misses a midweek communion! He will be a member of a house group and attend online parish prayer meetings.
The problem is though, this young man has fallen into a terrible trap, of which he is only partially aware. He thinks he can earn his way into heaven. He knows that there is something else but doesn’t quite know what. Jesus, very gently, looked at this young man and loved him. He makes him a wonderful offer, and one that he makes to us today. Get rid of everything and follow me!
Where Must I Be? Vs 22-25
So, the question is not, ‘What must I do?’, but rather, ‘Where must I be?’ vs22-24: At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
And here is the problem. The first flush of enthusiasm. The rash promises. The fire and openness of youth confronted by the reality of our own sin. Here was a rich young man, but his wealth held him. He was happy if his religion was kept in a nice box that could be brought off a shelf, dusted down, and opened for show on whatever day of the week necessary, but when it came to the cross. When it came to being more than religion, but a life commitment, he went away sad, because he wasn’t prepared to give up his great wealth. The young man could do nothing to inherit eternal life. Jesus offered himself, and this was too much for him. Like any gift you receive if your hands are full then you cannot receive any more.
How Can This Be? Vs 26-31
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Not only was the young man astonished and unable to respond. The disciples were astonished. You can imagine them listening to the conversation and nodding sagely, as if they were the founts of all wisdom and knowledge. They had heard Jesus speaking many times before and they were waiting for what they perceived would be the punch line. The problem, however, was that they weren’t expecting this line at all.
They are shaken out of their complacency and forced to face a real question. It is the ‘what about me?’ question. I thought I was all right and now I see that I am not too dissimilar from this man that has just walked away. The disciples quite rightly see that no one meets God’s standards. Except Jesus that is.
It should not really be a surprise that we can do nothing to save ourselves. We may know the right responses. But deep down we can still think that we are all right. God should be pleased that we are here in church, giving my money, supporting all the right things. But we can get into a routine of life, can’t we – and church can become routine if we are not careful. A relationship with our creator God is so important. Coming to God on His terms and not ours. Swallowing our pride. Trusting in what Jesus has done on a cross as the only means for your or my salvation.
The Wall Street Journal quoted an anonymous wit who defined money as:
An article which may be used as a universal passport to everywhere except heaven, and as a universal provider for everything except happiness.
He might have wanted to add something about money being a wonderful servant but a terrible master. We cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve both God and money. If God is our master, then money will be our servant. But if money is our master, then we become the servants of money and money is an unforgiving master. We waste our lives instead of investing in them.
Of all the people who came to Jesus, this man is the only one who went away in a worse than when he first approached him – and yet he had so much in his favour. Don’t be like the rich young man and lose sight of what Jesus has done for you and what he requires of you.