Summary: Mark’s gospel tells the story of a man who cannot follow after Jesus because of his "many possessions." Although this man is typically known as rich, Mark tells us he just has a lot of stuff--much like us! Jesus re-defines riches here.
“That’s Where I Keep All My Stuff”
Sermon on Mark 10:17-31
October 15, 2006
Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said,
"You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving,
for he had many possessions.
I remember when I heard that we had been given an appointment in the British Methodist Church. I was sitting in my apartment one night and I checked my email and saw where someone from England had written me something. The subject line was “Welcome to the London Northeast District!” I opened it as quick as my finger could click it and found out that my first appointment as a minister was going to be as the pastor of five churches in England. The next line of the email told me to be on the lookout for a packet of information in “the post” to accept the call officially that I was to send back in to Methodist Church House immediately. This all sounded wonderful and exciting. I couldn’t believe what a wonderful opportunity I had in front of me.
You can imagine all the thoughts that go into planning for a move across the world. As the day approached when we were to fly out, we had to plan even more furiously than before. We had to decide what to do with our American lives for a year. We had to decide if we were going to keep our cars and pay on them while we were in England or if we were going to sell them. We had to decide if the dog could come with us or not (which my wife told me was going to happen or else she wasn’t coming with me). We had to decide if we could afford the airplane tickets and if we could still pay the minimum towards all our student loans. But most of all we had to decide what we were going to do with all our stuff while we were over there and if we had enough money to pay for storing it for a year or more. Contemplate a move to a different land and you will quickly realize just how much the stuff you possess rules your life.
“Stuff.” A cartoon that I was watching once dealt with the perennial problem facing most superheroes. The villain had plans to destroy the world and the superhero had to figure out a way to stop him. When the superhero heard of the villain’s plans to destroy the world, he said, “But you can’t destroy the world, that’s where I keep all my stuff!”
The apartment Jennifer and I lived in when we first got married we chose because of the huge closet in the master bedroom that we could use to store all her…uh, I mean “our” stuff. You don’t realize just how much stuff you have until you have to pack it up and carry it up some stairs and store it. And why is it that no matter how much you seem to donate to the Goodwill store or sell at a yard sale, you never seem to even make a dent in it all. You quickly learn how much stuff you own…or rather how much stuff owns you.
Well, the man in today’s story usually gets known as the rich young ruler. That is because in Matthew’s version of this story he says he was a young man and Luke’s version says that he was a ruler that was very rich. So, the stories often get combined and the man becomes known as the rich, young ruler. However, I want you to pay attention to what Mark tells us about this man. Mark simply tells us that he was a man much like you and me, who “had many possessions.”
Jesus redefines wealth here. We tend to think of riches differently than those during Jesus’ time. We think of riches as having the best quality of something, owning a Rolls Royce instead of a Dodge Caravan; an expensive home in the elite section of town instead of a typical home with central heating and air and indoor plumbing. But the gospel lesson redefines wealth. Notice the story doesn’t say that the man went away grieving because he had luxurious possessions—but because he had many possessions. The man in today’s story is more like us than we would like to admit. It isn’t that he’s filthy rich, but he is certainly attached to what he has.
The dangerous thing about money is that you don’t have to even have it to be possessed by it. Frequently those who idolize money the most are not the rich but the poor who try their best to be the rich. Jesus isn’t speaking here to some guy who has his own money bin to swim around in; who feasts on caviar and drives an Italian sportscar. Jesus is talking to a man who has made it his aim in life to obey the commandments who just happens to enjoy his possessions. Jesus called the man to be his disciple but the man couldn’t let go of his stuff.