Saturday, 13 October 2012

October 14, 2012, Pentecost 20, The rich lawyer,


Mark told stories of Jesus bringing good news to people who were on the edge, the sick (lepers), the poor (the widows mite), the disabled (the paralysed man), the unclean (the menstruating woman), the unacceptable (the prostitute).
Marks gospel has a main story and three sub-stories. The main story is about Jesus journey to Jerusalem, to the cross. The three sub-texts or stories are about 1. The creation of a Messianic community 2) his ministry of teaching and healing 3) his confrontation of the rich and powerful.

As Jesus started on his way, a certain man ran up to him, having knelt before him and asked him this question. Good teacher (there is nothing offensive in this statement, but Jesus reminds the man that no person is good (good=perfect, adulation is not good!) “What must I do in order to inherit eternal life?"(inherit means possess here). The phrase first appears in Daniel). There is an allusion here to the Shema (the prayer the Jews say every day), "The Lord our God, the Lord is one",

Jesus knows that the commandments are the answer to the question about eternal life, not because a man can keep them and so earn eternal life, but because, if he honestly tries to keep them, he will be brought to recognize his own inadequacy.

"Do not covet" is the tenth commandment in certain Jewish traditions, in which it forbids not only craving for other' possessions but also usurping them (try telling that to David Cameron!). Jesus uses do not defraud" a common understanding of the commandment since he is leading the rich man up the high moral ground of self-righteousness. The command "do not covet" is directed against cravings which are impossible to deny, but the alternative  "do no defraud", is capable of being obeyed.

He said to him all these things I have kept since I was a boy. Jesus looked at him and loved him and said to him. "One thing you lack sell .and give everything you have (Francis of Assisi) . Jesus is using the neighbourly law to underline the fact that eternal life cannot be inherited by doing (thank God!). This man, although a godly man, condemned with the rest of humanity. To love his neighbor with such love is beyond him, as it is beyond us all.

Treasure in heaven was a common Jewish saying to describe God’s blessings of God in general and follow me. Like Peter and Andrew, the man is called to become a disciple of Jesus. The man's face fell. He went away sad. The man has recognized the perfection demanded of him and is broken before it. He cannot do it because he is very rich!

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God/gain eternal life”. Just as it is impossible for the largest animal in Palestine a camel  to pass through the eye of a needle, so it is even more impossible for "a rich man" to possess eternal life.
So can anyone be saved? Impossible for men, but not with God
for everything is possible with God". Peter began to say to him.
we have left everything to follow you. Jesus replied for the sake of for me and the gospel. Many who are first will be last.

Mark carefully places the story of "the rich young ruler" between the blessing of the children, and the rewards of discipleship. In the blessing of the children, we learn that the kingdom of God is received by the humble seeker as a gift of grace. In the story of the rich man we learn that the righteousness worthy of the kingdom is beyond any of us because we are all "rich" in this world's things. In the disciples' response to the rich man's sad departure, we learn that the kingdom is given to the broken, not the proud.

The story of the rich man comes is easily misunderstood. The story hinges on the question "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" In response to this question, Jesus proceeds to use the law to expose the man's sin. In fact, much of Jesus' teaching serves this end. The rich man fails to recognize his sin under the law and so Jesus takes "neighbourly" law  (love your neighbour as yourself) to the level of impossible perfection. If the rich man would be perfect and justified before God and inherit eternal life, then he needs to sell what he owns and give the money to the poor. Jesus' strips the rich man of any hope of self-justification before God. He "went away grieving." The rich man's response is the proper response for a person who has come to recognize their state in the presence of God. When it comes to the business of gaining "eternal life", Jesus has left him with only one answer, God’s mercy. Mark then compares the broken state of this man before God with the self-righteousness of the disciples who are reminded by Jesus that the "first will be last and the last will be first".

Comparing this with the parable of the Good Samaritan with a similar introductory question on the how to gain eternal life. The point that Jesus makes is not just be good Samaritan, but that we will fail! For the lawyer, doing likewise was not an option. The law functioning exposes our inability to be perfect and drives us to God for mercy and strength.


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