The Ten commandments and the Rich Man.
Oct 11 St Mary’s Whitby.
When we hear today’s gospel story of the rich man’s encounter with Jesus, it starts with a sideways twist doesn’t it? The man called Jesus Good teacher, probably just as a way of addressing him. He could have called him Jesus Bar-Joseph, or Rabbi, or even Galileen. But he said Good teacher, as a throwaway greeting, just like calling someone dear sir. It wasn’t meant to be anything much. But Jesus took it out of left field, as he so often does. Maybe Jesus discerned a sarcasm in the address? or a condescension? I remember the series of Yes Minister, which we still watch sometimes, and Sir Humphrey had an annoying way of addressing all women who had the temerity to question him as ‘dear lady’. It always sounded patronising and dismissive.
But if this is what was happening between the rich man and Jesus, Jesus saw through it immediately, and put the focus back on God. ‘Only God is good’, he said.
After that he addressed the question,’What can I do to have eternal life?’ Rather than telling the man to have faith in him, he reminded him about the ten commandments. Now this might seem rather odd, but remember that this is Mark’s gospel account, and it is full of examples of what is called the messianic secret. “Don’t tell anyone” is a common refrain.
So Jesus reminds the young man about the ten commandments, and the fellow affirms that he had always followed them. But Jesus looks closely, and reminds him not to defraud. I suspect Jesus knew that the man was rich not merely through hard work, good luck and family connections. He knew he was overly attached to his wealth.
I follow a blog called Gifts in Open Hands , and this week there was posted a version of the ten commandments, which goes beyond the words to the intent.
It’s really good so I will read all of it out:
I am God of a World Communion – don’t put any of your little particular religions between you and God.
Don’t make idols of race or money or power or national identity and bow down and worship them.
Don’t make a wrong use of God’s name to justify your own ideas or your politics or even your interpretations of the Bible.
Remember that Sabbath means that you should rest your body, mind, and spirit and that you should create a society in which affordable rest care is a primary agenda for all people.
Honor all the elderly, listen to their wisdom and care for their wellbeing, for this is the only way to receive a heritage.
You shall not kill with your death penalty. You shall not kill by letting guns be unconscionably accessible to those ill of mind and spirit. You shall not kill migrant children for lack of a welcome. You shall not kill by starvation unnecessary in a world of abundance. You shall not kill by war.
You shall not commit abuse in loving relationships, permit human trafficking, forbid love.
You shall not lie about the earth and that which damages it. You shall not lie in negotiations between nations, in the emissions of corporate greed, in the paying of the taxes that sustain a common life. You shall no longer lie about the past for our indigenous, aboriginal, native brothers and sisters are weeping. You shall not swallow lies about the present, neither in congress or in court. You shall not invent lies about the future that steal our children’s world.
And hardest of all in an era so divided between rich and poor that the rich always serve a gold-calf brunch to their friends with someone else’s ewe lamb, you shall not covet what your neighbor has, because wanting what someone else has tears the world’s communion to pieces, and breaking bread is meant to be a blessing to share.
Jesus is calling the man to examine his deepest-held treasure. As we heard in the Hebrews reading, Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are.
This could come as a bit of a scary thought, that Jesus can see through our bluster and our exterior, to the inner workings and idols of our heart, even when we can barely articulate them ourselves. Nothing is hidden from God.
But it’s not scary, it’s open and loving. A parent loves and cares for a baby even at its most revolting – nappy-changes become a loving act. God loves us the same way.
It takes courage on our part to allow God to search our hearts in the way that the epistle writer urges.
‘Whenever we are in need we should come bravely before the throne of God.’ Yes, it won’t be easy. Yes, we need courage. But committing to any loving relationship takes courage doesn’t it?
Job had courage didn’t he? He complained to God that he had been made to suffer. He had the open, loving relationship with his God that meant he didn’t have to hide his most unseemly emotions. He trusted that God would listen to him, because he is innocent!
We can come to God with our anguish even when we aren’t innocent!
My friends, isn’t it marvellous that we don’t have to have all our ducks in a row before coming to God? Isn’t it wonderful that we are loved with an unconditional, sacrificial love, no matter how terrible we feel we are, how unworthy?
Now, if God loves us like this, and urges us to be real with him, surely we need to love each other in the same way. Surely we need not fear ridicule or scorn from our fellow Christians, no matter what a mess we are in?
Many young people in their teens start to notice that Christians don’t all follow the same agenda. Some are judgemental, some hypocritical, some – gasp – human. And young people, who can be so idealistic, so passionate but at the same time powerless, often decide that all of religion is more trouble than it’s worth. People have killed, tortured, crusaded in the name of religion, so it’s a better bet to just reject all religious expression.
But Jesus has been misrepresented by his followers. The Jesus who could look at the rich man who asked how to inherit eternal life, and love him. He didn’t reject him because he was wealthy or successful, or even because his wealth may have been gained at others’ expense. Jesus loved him, because that’s what Jesus is about. Loving us all, and giving us the model for how to love each other.
Jesus did however have a challenge for him, to give away all his wealth to the poor. Jesus knew where his idol was.
I wonder if that was the end of the story? Maybe the rich man thought about Jesus’ words, and the phrase about not cheating people started to niggle like a prickle in his foot, and his conscience was changed? I hope so.
Let’s come back to Job. Job knew that God was always at work, even though he couldn’t see him. He knew that God could hear him, and would do exactly what he pleased. But Job also knew that when he was tested he would be found pure as gold. He had a clear conscience, so he could approach God and say, this isn’t fair, there is no reason for me to be judged. I am innocent!
He refused to be silent, even though God had ‘covered him in darkness’.
Shall we refuse to be silent too? Shall we stand up on behalf of those who cannot cry out? Shall we oppose human trafficking, slavery, greed, all the ways of the world which make life hard if not impossible for some of God’s beloved children?
I believe that we must. God sees everything in the world, and it breaks his heart. we must allow our hearts to be broken too, because we are made in God’s image.
Last week’s sermon about the Barnabas fund opened our eyes to the plight of Christians fleeing war in Syria, and the injustice that means they don’t have access to refugee services, because of fears for their safety. We have seen it, we can’t un-see it. Have you signed the petition in the foyer? What else can you do to help these people?
Go back to the rich man. He knew the basis for a Godly life – he had followed the commandments since his youth. This week and next encourage you to ponder on one commandment at a time, its wider implications, and what it can mean for you and your life, and your sphere of influence – your work, your family, your facebook friends, and all the ways you can be a blessing to the world.