A myHT Fortress

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What Must I Do? -- A Homily on Mark 10:17-22

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This young, wealthy man comes up to Jesus with this major question, and how does Jesus respond? It is almost as if He is ignoring the question! Instead of answering “What must I do?” at first our Lord stops him dead in his tracks.

“Good.” “Why do you call Me good?” Our dear Lord is asking, “Do you realize what you are saying?” You see, if we truly understand “good,” then we know it can apply to only One – the Lord God Himself! So Jesus informs the man that He has – even if unwittingly – just admitted that Jesus Christ is God!

Then He does get around to the question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” But wait! It’s the wrong question! “What must I do?!” I don’t think so! And yet, listen to Jesus’ reply. It’s rather shocking! “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” Do you mean to tell me that Jesus is saying we need to keep the commandments in order to get into heaven? After explaining in the Sermon on the Mount that they mean far more, and we break them constantly? We’re sunk!

Yet this rich young man seems not to be phased one bit. Yeah. Sure. I’ve done all that. And we shake our heads in disbelief. How can he say that? What nerve! But wait. Before you go condemning him, think how often you say to yourself: “I’ve been pretty good. I haven’t killed anybody. I try to keep God’s commandments. I hope I’ve been good enough.” Even in this month of celebrating our Reformation heritage, all too often we get caught up in the thought that we are trying to keep His Word. God says: “So what! That isn’t enough.” There is no such thing as a human who is “good enough” since the sin in the Garden.

And then comes the clincher: “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Jesus is telling him that this good work will get him to heaven? What is going on here?! I thought the Bible does not teach salvation by works!

It doesn’t. And that is not what Jesus is saying. Some may try to compare this event to the Jailer at Philippi, and say that God’s Word is contradicting itself. But they are wrong.

Paul and Silas were in jail. The Lord sends an earthquake and releases the apostle and the others. The terrified jailer cries out: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” And he was baptized at once, he and his family. (Acts 16:30-31, 33b ESV.) Even then, the work of belief belongs to the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift. So he and his family simply received the salvation through Paul’s preaching and Holy Baptism!

Like the Jailer, you have been rescued and brought out of a dark prison – a prison of sin and death. Our loving Lord has delivered you and given you faith – belief in Jesus – and baptized you into His kingdom. You are saved!

Then why does Jesus tell the rich young man to keep the law? The bottom line is, the Jailer and the Rich Young Man are in two very different places. The Jailer is terrified and repentant. He has been face to face with God’s Law in the earthquake, knowing he is powerless and helpless. The Rich Young Man, however, has a problem. There is something standing in his way. He has another god: his wealth. He fears, loves, and trusts his riches above all things. And he is so set in his ways and secure in them that he does not even realize how smug and self-absorbed he has become.

We can be much the same way. We may not even have great riches, but when we let things preoccupy us, they become our gods. When people or possessions become our main focus, we end up serving ourselves, and then we begin to worship our very selves as our gods!

So why does Jesus lead him this way in this conversation? Why does Jesus tell this Rich Young Man to keep the Law and give everything away? Our Savior is telling him to cast away his other gods, that the Lord can cleanse and purge and place saving faith in him.

Jesus comes to you today. He urges you to cast off your idols, and avoid any trust in the false god of wealth. This opens the kingdom of heaven to you. Not because you have actively done anything. But the Holy Spirit then calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith. He gifts you with faith in the true God, infinitely better than any wealth we can imagine.

These past couple years have also taught us about trusting in wealth. Even congregations can slip into trusting that their investments and offerings will provide for their needs, rather than recognizing it purely as gift from God. Sure we will give a passing acknowledgement that it is God’s money, but we crunch numbers and either worry or gloat over how we are doing. And it is no secret that St. John’s is hurting in terms of earthly finances. But the Good Teacher is telling us to avoid the fear, love, or trust in these riches and debts. Instead, we rejoice in the Gospel, celebrating His forgiveness and love, and giving as He enables us to help His ministry and mission here.

Will that giving earn heaven? Absolutely not! But what a joy and pleasure it is to respond in love and thanks to our Savior who rescues us.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him. The Good Teacher’s heart went out to him. He so desperately wanted the man to be brought to faith. And He does the same with you and me. He looks at us and loves us. He loves us far more than simply giving us stuff. He gives salvation! He gives eternal life! He gives Himself to bleed and die on the cross, making Himself truly poor that we might be rich – rich in faith and forgiveness; rich in eternal life with the Lord!

Dear friends in Christ, you are loved by the Lord. He has compassion on you and rescues you from all your false gods. He gathers you into His kingdom. Thanks be to God that He comes and gives you true riches today, from this pulpit to your ears and from this altar to your mouth! Jesus is entering you and filling you with the true and lasting wealth of life in Him! Amen.

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