Texts: Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Mark 10:17-31
Speaker: Rachael Miller
In a crowded bazaar in Cairo vendors sell their wares, the dusty desert air warm and dry.
Tables of merchandise - statues, clothes, bowls. The clamor of voices, the back and forth banter of the barter:
“15 American dollar.”
“I’ll give you 10.”
“That’s way too low! 14 dollar, this is quality. I give you a good price.”
I was in Egypt with my seminary class, and in this moment I was not comfortable. This is not my preferred method of procuring items. I like to keep things simple. Give me a price, we make an exchange, we go our separate ways.
A classmate and I talked about this bartering thing that is both common practice and expected.
They explained: it’s about relating and relationship.
I reflected: perhaps in America, where we largely no longer barter, we’ve exchanged relationship for convenience. I had my mind set on the exchange of goods: What do I give? What do I get?
In our reading this morning, Job came from this same mindset.
He gave: devotion, offerings, right living.
He got: home, family, food, livestock - all in abundance. His wealth proved his righteousness. At least, that’s what he believed before he lost everything. Now, he wrestles with his understanding of what it means to be in relationship with God. He lost the easy grounding place of we get what we deserve, and if we follow God’s will,
everything will be okay.
If it’s not about giving and getting: If it’s not about if a person does x and y, God will supply A and B - What then? The tangible, the material, that which we can see and touch, smell, taste, hear - as humans, these are our primary sources of evidence. Without these, when circumstances do not align with goodness and grace, how does one know they are right with God? that they are following God’s will?
In an anti-anabaptist move, I will use this question from Job about gives and gets, about evidence of following God’s will, to inform my reading of the passage from Mark.
The gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke share a whole lot of stories and it is interesting to see what is unique to each version. In this story, of the wealthy person who comes to Jesus and inquires about inheriting eternal life, two words are unique to Mark: love and children.
First, love: The wealthy person, anxious for security, asks - What must I do? What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus looked at them, beheld them, saw them for who they were, and loved them. Jesus knew that for the person in front of him, wealth was a prison. And he loved them. I imagine Jesus saying, with gentle tenderness, knowing the wound in their soul: “Oh Honey…” “Oh, Honey, the only thing you have to do is let go.”
It’s not about doing. It’s not about striving. It’s not about achieving enough goodness to be deemed acceptable. Jesus neither scolds nor shames; rather, with lovingkindness offers the invitation: Let go of that which gets in the way of relationship with God and others, and join us, be part of community. Go, sell, then come, follow. The invitation is to forego self-sufficiency in favor of relating and relationship.
The wealthy person went away grieving, the text tells us, “because they possessed much.” The text is silent on whether the grief was for having chosen to keep all their possessions or for having chosen to sell all their possessions. The text is silent, and that is beside the point.
The invitation is to us, to me, to you: Jesus invites us to let ourselves be loved, to be seen, to be known - exactly as we are, in the fullness of our humanity and brokenness.
Jesus invites us to be led to freedom. The freedom which comes in the shedding of that which does not give life - as a tree releases her leaves in the fall, their season of usefulness and nurture now gone, allowing Wind to scatter them as it will, trusting enough sustenance will return as the debris is transformed and nutrients are absorbed in a more basic form.
We are invited to shed that which does not give life as a tree releases her leaves. The trees make it look easy. The truth is, there is risk and vulnerability in the shedding of leaves. The becoming bare is a tender season.
How hard it is. How hard it is, Jesus says. It is so much easier to trust in what can be seen, what can be grasped and held in the hand.
And so, we come to children:
The disciples are astounded by Jesus’ pronouncement: “How hard it is for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God.” They are baffled and move quickly toward despair, asking: “Who then can be saved?” anxiety rising. If not even the wealthy can make it, who stands a chance? Their logic was based on the assumption of Job: Wealth proves righteousness. The wealthy have all they do because God blesses them for their faithfulness.
With the fingers of their worldview in their ears, the disciples were unable to hear the grace, unable to recognize the good news:
Jesus named them “children,” with that single word bequeathing unto them more than they could comprehend. For hadn’t Jesus just finished telling them: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these, it is to such as these, that the kingdom of God belongs.” For the disciple children, there is nothing more they need do. The kingdom of God already belongs to them. How strange the idea that God already accepts and there is nothing to be done for it.
A perplexing possibility in a world of zero-sums, and there isn’t enough to go around, and the proof is in the pudding. This kind of kingdom -the kind of kingdom Jesus proposes, operates according to a different set of rules: the rich are not favored for their riches or their power, and children have claim of ownership. Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. A different kind of kingdom. A different understanding of gives and gets, relationships primary and built on we are already enough.
Jesus invites us, invites me, invites you, into a life according to a different set of rules, where the questions “What do I give? What do I get?” take a back seat to relating and relationship. Where love is not seen as a good to exchange. Where we let go of the need to measure up or prove ourselves worthy. Where we relax into God’s ready acceptance of us. Where we allow ourselves to be known and loved. Where we follow Jesus’ lead into a life of greater freedom. Amen.