Season After Pentecost (Proper 23[28]) – The Gospel Passage: When the path of our lives need to change, up to and including our health and well-being

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:17 – 18)

Eternal life – in one respect that almost sounds like a life without illness. I know, I know . . . . I am pressing the point because it fits with my theme of this week. And I have to admit the Gospel passage does not seem to fit well in the parameters of illness. Not even if we talk about sin as an illness. What then might this young man be yearning after?

“You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”” (Verse 19 – 20)

The young man is stating (I may go as far as saying he is “proclaiming) that he is “good” – maybe not the Divine type of good. But he is a man who has lived a morally upright life according to the Jewish/Ten Commandments.

“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.” (Verses 21 – 22)

If we can stretch the boundaries and say some types of sins are an illness, it is a lessor stretch to say the train of avarice and affluence is also an illness. NOT that it is an illness to have wealth and resources, but that the desire and characteristic to continue accumulating wealth and possession beyond your life’s need can be.

“Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them 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 someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Verses 23 – 25)

One understanding of this passage says that Jesus meant not the eye of a sewing needle but the narrow passage way into Jerusalem. A camel, it is said, could only pass through it if it hunched down and had not cargo on its back. In other words, in order to enter into the kingdom of God you need to be stripped down to only the barest of essentials – say perhaps one’s soul/spirit and belief in the Divine.

They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” (Verse 26)

Again, I have heard this statement explained as such; the disciples’ understanding of life was that those who are rich have been blessed by God, and being blessed by God surely means you would have easy entry to heaven.

“Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” (Verse 27)

Jesus directs the understanding towards this truth – earthly actions and abilities will not win you entry into heaven nor the kingdom of God. At other points Jesus talks about the need to believe in him as the Messiah and the Lord God as the sender of Jesus. But here this point is not dwelt upon. However, the writer of the gospel of Mark has more to relate about this incident. And I suspect will take us in a new direction and lead us to new considerations.

“Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age–houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Verses 28 – 31)

Peter, being Peter, is very blunt and point blank. He says that the disciples have nothing to their name, no possessions or resources stored up. They have given up everything that was in their lives in order to follow Jesus. And now Jesus is telling them that there may be no provision for them in the days to come?!

Let me tell you a brief story, a story from my past, and perhaps help you understand my perspective on the themes I have been referring to this week. In 2005 I had graduated from seminary one year ago, and I was looking at finding a ministerial position. There were several possibilities and I was testing out where I might best find a church or ministry to join. My husband, however, had gotten a job offer from a university out west and it was a very good position for him. And we both felt it was the right thing for him and our family. So instead of finding a position in the area where I had gone to seminary and was known, we moved out to Oregon where I knew no one and had not base or foundation to be involved in any type of ministry. I wondered what would ever become of me and my calling to the ministry. I have up everything, and had to trust that the Lord would open up a way for me. It was a great step of faith for me. But that move forced me out of my “comfort zone” and possibilities opened up beyond what I could ever imagine. And as the years went on and things developed in my life, I realized that this move was the best thing that could have happened.

The disciples could not see much into the future – much as I could not. But I stepped out in faith. Jesus is telling the disciples to step out in faith also, and that faith would be rewarded a hundredfold. Now, let me add one more aspect to my story. Soon after our move out west, my health started to take a downward turn. It turns out I could not have continued in ministry the way I thought I would. The path that was set before me by the Lord was a much better path than the one I thought I should be on. And my ill health has actually opened up doors to ministering to people that I would have never found otherwise. And it is my firm belief that it will continue to.

Illness and health – these terms are really very relative to the situation we are in. Did the rich young man have the affliction of affluence – unhealthy attachment to things? Did the disciples put more belief in the security of resources and stability than in their faith in Jesus? Did some the Jews during Jesus’ lifetime put more energy and effort in the political and social life than in their faith life? And what about Job and his friends – did they measure their holiness and “goodness” by their health and position in their society? Furthermore, does our current modern life do any of these same things? Finally, beloved reader, are you reluctant to step out and try new things, release your hold on possessions and security, and answer new callings because you are not sure how it will turn out? These are challenging things to ponder, but pondering them is a very important step in our faith life. Shalom as you ponder!

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